High-energy, beautifully re-mastered renditions of Stravinsk
Michael G. Radigan | Aberdeen, New Jersey | 04/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Stravinsky's Les Noces is not performed as widely as the Firebird, Le Sacre du Printemps or Petrouchka, but this impressionistic evocation of a Russian village wedding is one of his true masterpieces. This accurate, energetic 1960s-era performance, by the Czech Philharmonic / Prague Philharmonic Choir under the direction of Karel Ancerl, does justice to this beautiful piece. Also included on this disc are the lovely Cantata, a choral work based on old English texts, and the Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet. The Mass, which Stravinsky aptly called 'cold music for the spirit,' is a Catholic mass setting but a highly unconventional, and haunting, one. Though nearly forty years old, these recordings have been so well re-mastered that they sound like recent performances. A Stravinsky fan should not be without this CD; a listener seeking an introduction to the work of this 20th-century master would do worse than to start here.
'Les Noces" is a real discovery, but everything else is supe
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Stravinsky often turned to genuine Russian folk singing in his smaller vocal works and chamber operas (Mavra, for example). In "The Wedding" (Les Noces) he made a large-scale work in the same idiom. He was functioning almost as the kind of musical anthropologist that Kodaly and Bartok were in Hungary, underlining the strange, uncivilized rhythms and vocal technique -- strange to non-Russians, that is -- with a motor-driven, percussive accompaniment that includes four pianos. I've always found it an alien work, and the most prominent recordings, such as those form Leonard Bernstein (DG) and the composer himself (Sony) push forward the pounding pianos, to the point that a headache is a present danger.
Happily, Karel Ancerl puts the solo voices forward and the pianos and percussion far back. It's not a realistic perspective, perhaps, but when you add his sympathetic singers, who really know what to do with the Slavic idiom (listen to the falsetto whoops from the baritone), th result is pure enjoyment -- for the first time, so far as I'm concerned. The women still have a throaty warble but no hard edge or shrillness. The recorded sound from 1964 has been nicely remastered without digital glare. There's a spirit of jubilation in this recording that escapes every other, so anyone who wants to experience Les Noces as a true wedding celebration should try this Ancerl first. By comparison, Stravinsky's account is brittle, Bernstein's brutal, and Robert Craft's anemic and joyless.
Recordings of the Cantata and Mass are thin n the ground, so even though they were of secondary interest, I welcomed them. Because Cantata (1952) is based on medieval English verse, including the same Lyke-wake Dirge that appears in Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, you might anticipate that Stravinsky has wandered into the cozy territory of Holst and Vaughan Williams, but he invented his own blend of medieval monody, with its narrow range of notes and constant curving back on itself, and modernist harmony -- the work was influenced by hearing webern's music in concert a few months before, but Stravinsky's acolyte Robert Craft assures us that the score is not atonal, as I had naively assumed in several places.
Craft calls Cantata one of Stravinsky's most moving works, and it certainly approaches that in Ancerl's 1967 recording, which escapes the slightest whiff of dry scholasticism -- the singing is full and rich, the woodwinds (which often carry the whole accompaniment) juicy and tangy in the famous Czech style. It's a shock at first to hear a familiar Christmas carol like 'Tomorrow shall be my dancing day' rendered a la Stravinsky's Symphonies of Winds, and stretched out to eleven minutes, but this is mesmerizing music once you adjust. Chorus and soloists, especially the sweet-voiced tenor, Gerald English, are exemplary as is the recorded sound, which brings both voices and winds forward. Another absolute winner that easily surpasses both Craft and Stravinsky in their recordings.
Stravinsky's phrase, "cod music for the soul," applies to the severity of his sparse liturgical writing, which is consistent from Sym. of Psalms through the rest of his career, including Mass, Cantata, and requiem Canticles. Perhaps the severest is Mass (1948), the only one to adhere strictly to the Latin Mass. Ancerl's recording dates from 1967, in the months following the Cantata sessions. The work belongs in a church, really, and has had few recordings, even though Craft extols it as "the most perfectly sustained in its musical emotion of the creations from his first decade in America." Colin Davis made a very English-sounding version, emphasizing purity and serenity. Ancerl's is more urgent and emotional; he finds more feeling in the spare woodwind orchestration, just as he did in Cantata. Rhythms are piquant and alive. The Prague chorus has more of the Russian Orthodox sonority that Stravinsky grew up with and, I'm sure, heard in his head.
In all, this is an unsurpassed recording of all three works and a tremendous addition to the Stravinsky discography. Anyone who is moved by it should check out Ancerl's acclaimed recording of Oedipus Rex, which has many of the same virtues."
Superlatives aren't enopugh................
Paul | Houston | 10/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SANTA FE said it all and he was, as always, RIGHT....this disc is a revelation and a MUST HAVE. Beautifully engineered and performed. I don't normally migrate to this composer, but I think I'm hooked. A+++++"