Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Firebird Suite
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel Rec 1958
The Rite of Spring
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan Rec 1977
Symphony of Psalms
Russian State Academy Choir and Orchestra/Igor Markevitch Rec 1963
Pulcinella Suite
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner Rec 1968
Concerto in E flat: Dumbarton Oaks
Ensemble Intercontemporain/Pierre Boulez Rec 1982
Petrushka (1911 version)
London Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit Rec 1977
Circus Polka
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan Rec 1972
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON Panorama 469 205 2 [2 discs; 74.54 & 77.39]
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This is excellent value, both financially and artistically. This well-filled pair of CDs contains a wealth of top quality material from DG's back catalogue, with sound that has emerged from its latest remastering very satisfactorily.

The earliest of these Stravinsky performances is by a conductor who is still very much at the centre of musical life, having recently been appointed Principal Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Lorin Maazel made some very fine recordings as a young man, none of them finer, in fact, than this 1958 Firebird Suite. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is on excellent form, yielding nothing to their more famous counterparts, the Philharmonic. The sound is warm and atmospheric, allowing the subtlety and romantic feeling of the score to communicate particularly well.

Stravinsky said that he found Karajan's interpretation of The Rite of Spring 'too mild mannered'. But he was referring to the conductor's earlier 1966 version; this 1977 version is tighter and more explosive, and the sound is suitable firm-edged. The drama is nothing if not compelling.

Markevitch's Russian performance of the Symphony of Psalms has satisfactory sound but the discipline of the ensemble could be tighter, since some of the orchestral and choral entries are not quite together. Like most performances, this is by a mixed chorus, with women rather than the boys Stravinsky preferred. The vibrancy and expressiveness of Markevitch's conception, however, more than compensates for any drawbacks in the ensemble.

Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields have made many recordings together, but few can match their 1968 Pulcinella Suite. For this is a vintage performance, beautifully recorded and featuring peerless playing. The tempi are well chosen throughout, never seeming forced., and with a chamber orchestra individual instrumental details are always brought into sharp focus.

Top quality playing is also a feature of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Boulez, in the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. The textures emerge with great clarity, but the tempi do not seem as natural as they might, pushing things to extremes somewhat. But this is a matter if interpretation, and Boulez makes the most of the music's possibilities for characterisation.

Although the sound is more spectacular skill in his later Montreal version of Petrushka (for Decca), Dutoit's 1977 performance of Petrushka with the LSO on top form is still an undoubted winner. He prefers the original 1911 version with its larger orchestra and richer, more colourful scoring, and the well-chosen tempi make the music flow at the same time as revealing the strong contrasts which lie at the heart of this marvellous work. Seldom have the rhythms danced with greater abandon than this.

The Circus Polka (for a young elephant) is among the most witty of all orchestral compositions, with displaced rhythms and uproarious orchestration. Perhaps Karajan is a little polite, though his tempi bring out the lively edge the music needs and the orchestra is on top form.

Terry Barfoot

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