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Rattle is a natural at Stravinsky, but this is fussed overSept. 1 2008
Santa Fe Listener
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
As a young man, Simon Rattle turned out some eye-opening Stravinsky CDs from Birmingham that seemed fresh and clear, with romantic touches in the phrasing and an absence of angularity. In this, his first foray into Stravinsky with the Berliners, every chord and rhythm has been examined and weighed, and although the execution is refined to an amazing degree, the results feel fussed over. Under Karajan and Abbado the orchestra barely touched Stravinsky's output in the recording studio, so I imagine Rattle wants to fill the void.
His one major success, to my ears, is the last movement, the Alleluia Laudate Dominum, in the Symphony of Pslams, which he makes as static and mesmerizing as a Russian icon. The Berlin Radio Chorus is the same one that Pierre Boulez used in his excellent 2000 recording, also from Berlin on DG. I find his reading more subdued and reverent than Rattle's, which comes as a surprise given Boulez'a reputation for clinical aloofness, but that was a canard to begin with. For Rattle EMI has miked the chorus in such a way that it sounds distant and a bit harsh, however. As for the two orchestral symphonies, Rattle softens the contours of the wartime Sym. in Three Movements, and the Symphony in C is studied to a fault, losing momentum along the way. By comparison, Boulez builds rugged blocks of sound that clash in a distrubing way, closer to what the composer intended, I think.
But if you want a revelation, turn to Stravinsky's own reading of the Symphony of Paslms on Sony -- it is recorded close up, with the chorus all but sitting in the orchestra, and the effect is much more dramatic and propulsive than either Rattle or Boulez. This great performance is followed by an equally masterful Symphony in C, which Stravinsky holds together tightly and energizes far more than his later rivals. However, if you don't have those two readings in your ears, Rattle has done a suave job here, and the sounds made by the Berliners are ravishing.