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Stravinsky: The Flood, Etc; Wuorinen: Reliquary / Knussen


Release Date: 04/23/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 447068   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Igor StravinskyCharles Wuorinen
Performer:  Peter HallMichael BerkeleyStephen RichardsonDavid Wilson-Johnson,   ... 
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London SinfoniettaNew London Chamber Chorus MenNew London Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Flood was originally written for television, and indeed, filmed versions of it do exist. It’s loosely based on medieval mystery plays, which gives the vocal parts faux naïf didacticism. Britten developed a similar idea in his Noyes Fludde, some seven years before. This simplicity works well with the formal twelve-tone row structure of the orchestration. Some very interesting musical ideas are going on in the background. While most people will just love the high-blown Shakespearean delivery of the vocal parts in this performance, I think it mars the piece - it detracts from the music. Mystery plays worked because the players sincerely believed in their meaning. Here, the black and white formalism goes against emotional content. Read more Stravinsky said he called the piece The Flood instead of, say, Noah, because he was writing of “The Eternal Catastrophe …. the Flood is also The Bomb”. He downplayed the human drama, calling Noah “a sideshow curiosity”. Perhaps this is why The Flood hasn’t attracted as much attention as other Stravinsky works. Rite of Spring this isn’t, despite the claims to ancient portent. There are only three recordings that I know of, one of which is conducted by Robert Craft who was instrumental in choosing the texts.

In Abraham and Isaac, Stravinsky is again exploring tone rows, the music ascending and descending in interesting cadences. Here the vocal line carries the structure rather well, single instruments in the orchestration acting to expand details in the singing. It also vaguely recalls Hebrew chant, which is itself cadential, but carries emotional charge. In his final work for orchestra, Variations, from 1963-4, Stravinsky dispenses altogether with the need for voice. Perhaps as a result, his writing seems freer and fresher as he plays with purely musical ideas.

The best parts of this recording are the Requiem Canticles, completed in 1966. Here, Stravinsky has developed serialism in a distinctively personal way. In the Prelude, the strings capture an exciting tension which evaporates into exquisitely lustrous choral singing. The words “Exaudi, Exaudi” alert you to the detailed structure of the movement. The Dies Irae is similarly alert and sharply focused, the choral singing strikingly precise. A particularly bright trumpet fanfare introduces the baritone. David Wilson- Johnson sings of the “trumpets’ astonishing sound, which sparkles …” and here it most certainly does. After an introspective Interlude, the choir returns, before Susan Bickley enters, plaintively shaping the long, keening lines in the Lachrymosa. But the high point of the piece is the Libera Me with its combination of spoken word and song, performed in interesting cross-currents. Like the tolling of bells with which the piece concludes, the words “Libera Me” peal over and over in different formations. Knussen and the Sinfonietta are new music specialists. Twelve-tone rows hold no mystery for them. Indeed, it is the clarity and precision of this performance that lets the beauty of Stravinsky’s writing shine through. It’s also very emotionally focused, as befits a requiem written by a master who understood that a Requiem has meaning, and isn’t just form.

It’s altogether fitting that this piece is followed by Charles Wuorinen’s Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky, for Wuorinen continues the mood of late Stravinsky and develops the ideas further. Wuorinen built his piece from a fragment from Stravinsky’s notes, developing variations on it, much in the liberal way Stravinsky had written the Variations heard earlier on this disc; thus, “reliquary”, a relic embellished with reverence. This is the classic account of the work, a milestone in Knussen and the Sinfonietta’s repertoire. Indeed, it was chosen as one of the first releases on the Sinfonietta’s own label. It has been reviewed earlier on Musicweb, by Glyn Pursglove and by myself.

The performance is exactly the same. The main difference between the discs is the pairings, which in both cases are well chosen.

-- Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. The Flood by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Peter Hall (Tenor), Michael Berkeley (Spoken Vocals), Stephen Richardson (Bass),
David Wilson-Johnson (Bass Baritone), Lucy Shelton (Spoken Vocals), Bernard Jacobson (Spoken Vocals),
Peter Hall (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta,  New London Chamber Chorus Men
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1962; USA 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 21 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: English 
2. Abraham and Isaac by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  David Wilson-Johnson (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; USA 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 11 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Language: Hebrew 
3. Variations for Orchestra "Aldous Huxley in memoriam" by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963-1964; USA 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 4 Secs. 
4. Requiem Canticles by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Pippa Thynne (Alto), Antony Townsend (Tenor), Peter Johnson (Bass),
David Wilson-Johnson (Bass Baritone), Susan Bickley (Alto), Marie Power (Soprano)
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta,  New London Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965-1966; USA 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 14 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
5. A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky by Charles Wuorinen
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; USA 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 17 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: This work is based in part on some of Stravinsky's last sketches and drafts. 

Sound Samples

The Flood (1961-62): Prelude: "Te Deum laudamus"
The Flood (1961-62): Melodrama: "In a worm's likeness will he wend"
The Flood (1961-62): The Building of the Ark (Choreography)
The Flood (1961-62): The Catalogue of the Animals:"The Lord bade that I should bring"
The Flood (1961-62): The Comedy (Noah and his wife): "Wife, come in!"
The Flood (1961-62): The Flood (Choreography)
The Flood (1961-62): The Covenant of the Rainbow "A Covenant,Noah,with thee I make"
Abraham and Isaac (1962-63): After these things God tested Abraham
Abraham and Isaac (1962-63): And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering
Abraham and Isaac (1962-63): And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked
Variations (1963-64): Aldous Huxley in memoriam
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Prelude
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Exaudi
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Dies irae
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Tuba mirum
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Interlude
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Rex tremendae
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Lacrimosa
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Libera me
Requiem Canticles (1965-66): Postlude
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Reliquary
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Variation
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Lament
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Variation continued
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Reliquary
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-75): Coda

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