Igor Stravinsky The Complete Columbia Album Collection is an unprecedented reissue of the complete recordings of his works that Igor Stravinsky made for CBS/American Columbia, bringing together for the very first time on CD all of the mono "Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky" recordings issued in the 1940s and 1950s alongside the more familiar stereo remakes from the 1960s, as well as all the authorized performances that Stravinsky's assistant Robert Craft conducted for the label in the composer's presence, after age and infirmity had restricted his own ability to do so.
Works of Igor Stravinsky is a massive set: 22 CDs of performances of Rite of Spring, Petrouschka, L'Histoire du soldat, Symphony in E-Flat, The Rake's Progress and more under the direction of the composer, with additional performances by his disciple Robert Craft under Stravinsky's supervision, and a disc (the Sympony in E-Flat disc, actually) that includes recordings of rehearsals and Stravinsky discussing his own music.
The years have seen Pierre Boulez record for CBS, Erato, EMI, and Philips, among other labels, but his most consistent and critically praised work has appeared on Deutsche Grammophon, where he has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and his own Ensemble InterContemporain in many successful performances. These ensembles are heard on this trimline, six-CD box set of Igor Stravinsky's major works, which brings together Boulez's recordings of L'oiseau de feu, Petrushka, Le Sacre du printemps, L'histoire du Soldat, the symphonies, concertos, and other works, recorded between 1980 and 1996. As one of the leading champions of modernism, first as a composer and essayist, then as a prominent conductor, Boulez is regarded as an authority on Stravinsky's oeuvre, and it is difficult to imagine many conductors who have a better understanding of the technical and stylistic issues that affect performances. Boulez is also famous for his precision and meticulousness, which make the details stand out clearly in the rhythmically complex and texturally dense orchestral scores of the ballets, and yet seem so delicate and exact in the concertos and pieces for smaller ensembles.
Each release from the Mariinsky label to date has featured music by some of the great Russian composers with whom the Mariinsky Theatre has enjoyed close relationships. For the label’s sixth release, Valery Gergiev turns to the music of Igor Stravinsky, a composer who grew up in St Petersburg, attending performances at the Mariinsky Theatre where his father sang. Less than four years separate the premieres of Les Noces and Oedipus Rex, yet they each represent high-points in two distinct phases of Stravinsky’s career. Although the concept of Les Noces is highly innovative – a ‘dance cantata’ – the music remains rooted in Russian folk traditions. Stravinsky dedicated the ballet to Diaghilev, whose Ballet Russes gave the première, and it marks the crowning glory of Stravinsky’s so-called ‘second Russian period’. The opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex is the first great work of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period.
Based on Sophocles' famous tragedy, Stravinsky's grippingly powerful Oedipus Rex represents the pinnacle of his neo-classical style, using the chorus and aria structure of that earlier period to great dramatic effect. Similarly drwing inspiration from classical antiquity, the ballet Apollom musagete evokes the grand French tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries, its two tableaux displaying rich string harmonies and textures that are pleasantly mesmerising, expressive and calmly indulgent.
Igor Stravinsky was one of music's truly epochal innovators; no other composer of the twentieth century exerted such a pervasive influence or dominated his art in the way that Stravinsky did during his seven-decade musical career. Aside from purely technical considerations such as rhythm and harmony, the most important hallmark of Stravinsky's style is, indeed, its changing face.
Is there any doubt that Robert Craft is the reigning Stravinsky conductor of our time? His years of friendship with, apprenticeship to and quasi-adoption by Stravinsky certainly give him bona fides for this, but it is his impeccable musicianship that tells here. These performances have appeared before on CD Jeu de cartes and Danses concertantes on Koch, and the Scènes de Ballet, Variations, and Capriccio on MusicMasters all recorded in the 1990s. Naxos is in the process of re-releasing on their own label all of Craft's Stravinsky recordings of that period (plus a few new ones done specifically for them) and the series is an undiluted triumph.
This Naxos disc is a coupling of two recordings originally issued by Koch. Both the recordings were part of Robert Craft's continuation of the complete Stravinsky edition he had begun on MusicMasters. Craft's second Oedipus Rex is less than entirely compelling. Martyn Hill is a virile Oedipus and Jennifer Lane is a noble Jocasta, but Craft is a bit too restrained in his rhetoric and a tad too reserved in his dramatics.