Robert Craft

Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms

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Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms Review

by James Leonard

Re-coupled from decade-old recordings originally released on the Music Masters label, this 2006 disc of Stravinsky's sacred choral works led by Robert Craft is in its way as good as it gets for the music. The playing of New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's and London's Philharmonia Orchestra is colorful and strong. The singing of the Simon Joly Chorale and the Gregg Smith Singers is lovely and powerful. And the conducting of Robert Craft, Stravinsky's one-time amanuensis and general factotum, is wholly at one with the music. There's not a melody, a harmony, a rhythm, or a color in these scores that is not represented with absolute accuracy and complete fidelity.

The real question is: how faithful is Craft to the meaning of the music? Stravinsky's sacred choral works, after all, are not his usual arch and ironic modernist constructions, but are instead more or less sincere attempts to embrace the faith of his Russian forbearers and any performance of them that doesn't accept and advocate for this aspect of the works is probably missing the point. Whether Craft gets the point is debatable because from the Three Russian Sacred Choruses that open the disc through the Symphony of Psalms that close it, his performances are undeniably musically brilliant, but nevertheless still seem interpretively and spiritually cold. Where is the awe, the terror, the comfort, and the consolation intrinsic to the music? Final judgement on such matters, of course, will have to be left to the individual listener -- and even those who criticize Craft's spiritual faith will have to concede his musical excellence. The sound of the recordings is uniformly clean, clear, and detailed.

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