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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky

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This month, the posts I have planned for the Tuesday blog and on my weekly podcast is “S” for “September”, where the topics have in common well, you know, the letter “S”. For the Podcast Vault, another October 2012 montage, this one featuring Igor Stravinsky as both composer and conductor.

In 1962 (or thereabouts), Columbia Masterworks embarked with Stravinsky in an ambitious 80th birthday project – to have Stravinsky either supervise sessions or conduct performances of all his major works: the ballets, the concertos, the symphonies… Considering that Stravinsky was eighty years (young!), I think we are all satisfied with the results of that endeavor, and then some. Here is a video document that helps illustrate what this would have been like:

By today’s standards, Stravinsky was an “average to good” conductor, and relied on rehearsals and his ability to communicate exactly what he expected to achieve some rather interesting results. We can argue (and we have on this forum) whether the Stravinsky recordings are authoritative or reference recordings, but we cannot deny that the man invested himself fully into this legacy task.

As was the case on projects with marquee artists (Bruno Walter comes immediately to mind here), Columbia would assemble a pick-up orchestra made up of local professional musicians, many of them part of the local symphonies, to make up the generic “Columbia Symphony”, sometimes assembled in New-York or in Los Angeles. However, a good number of recordings were made at Massey Hall in Toronto with the CBC Symphony Orchestra (it, too, made up of local union musicians from the Canadian Opera Company or Toronto Symphony orchestras). The recording Stravinsky made of the Symphony of Psalms (one of, in my opinion, the reference recordings of the work) also recruited the help of Elmer Iseler, one of Canada’s legendary choral conductors.

The Ebony Concerto, composed with clarinetist Woody Herman in mind, is offered in this montage with another Jazz clarinetist of renown, Benny Goodman. However, the major recording I have planned today is a complete performance of the original version of the Firebird.

In a radio interview when he was passing through Toronto well over 20 years ago, Michael Tilson-Thomas remarked that the “Original Firebird” is his preferred version, and since MTT worked wirth Stravinsky early in his career, there has to be some shared common preferences… Also, we know from the back cover of the vinyl recording Columbia originally issued that Stravinsky’s first public concert as a conductor was of the same score.

In a past discussion thread (which I canèt seem to find...), I spoke rather glowingly about this performance, and of some of the blemishes. If you listen closely, about 10 bars or so before the Infernal Dance, there is a 2-3 second pause where we can distinctly hear Stravinsky turn the page of his score. This blemish, very perceptible in the vinyl version, is still present in the digitally remastered version (part of this montage).

More Stravincky:

ITYWLTMT Podcast Montage #75 – Birthday: Igor Stravinsky
(Originally issued on Friday, October 12, 2012)

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Scherzo fantastique, op. 3
CBC Symphony Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky, conducting

Symphony of Psalms, for chorus and orchestra (1930)
Festival Singers Of Toronto (Dr. Elmer Iseler, Chorus master)
CBC Symphony Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky, conducting

Ebony Concerto, for clarinet and jazz band (1945)
Benny Goodman, clarinet
Columbia Jazz Band
Igor Stravinsky, conducting

L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird), complete ballet (Original version, 1910)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky, conducting

September 6 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Sousa and Suppé" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more September 6 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Sep-07-2013 at 02:15 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Composers , Conductors , Recorded Music