Though one has to give credit for trying, one cannot wholeheartedly praise the BBC Symphony Orchestra's efforts on this all-Stravinsky disc led by the composer. Part of the responsibility for the performances is the composer's. Stravinsky was a better conductor when this concert was taped in December 1958 than he had been 30 years earlier when he made his first recordings of his own works, but he was still more of a functional than inspirational leader. Though his conducting here is precise compared with his earliest attempts, the playing he elicits from the British musicians has all the joie de vivre of paying a parking ticket. The London orchestra acquits itself best in the central Symphony in Three Movements, where the work's propulsive rhythms, modernist architecture, and "grand gesture" rhetoric is familiar enough from England's own William Walton. But the orchestra's ensemble playing in the Agon that opens the concert is too often held together only by the percussion section and the conductor's determination while the string playing in the Apollo that closes the concert is sometimes painfully out of tune. There is occasionally magic here, moments in Agon when the xylophone is rattling, in the symphony when the brass is blasting, or in the encore of the finale from Firebird when the BBC can at last take wing in familiar repertoire. In those moments one can wholeheartedly praise the orchestra and the conductor for doing such great service to the composer. But those moments are too few to make this disc recommendable to anyone except diehard Stravinsky fans. BBC's monaural sound is predominantly dim and gray.
AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Agon, ballet for 12 dancers & orchestra|
|Symphony in Three Movements, for orchestra|
|Apollon musagète, ballet in 2 scenes for string orchestra|
|L' oiseau de feu (The Firebird), ballet in 2 scenes for orchestra|