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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Colors Compensate for Strangely Rushed Psalm Coda
To get the unpleasant news out of the way first ... the Symphony of Psalms is generally quite good, but is far from the best. There are runaway crescendos in which the full ensemble gets shriek-ey to a degree which is, actually, shocking for Boulez, who normally (witness the two instrumental selections on the disc) shows such refined sensitivity to Stravinsky's use of...
Published on July 23, 2002 by Karl Henning

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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The wrong orchestra for this music.
The absolute key to performing the music of Igor Stravinsky, whether it be Pulcinella or the Requiem Canticles, is a precise delineation of rhythm. This is of course true for all music, but it is especially true for Stravinsky. Rhythmic motivization and development is the basis for the propulsion and power of his musical thought, and any performance that does not...
Published on March 14, 2000 by Nicholas Fox


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Colors Compensate for Strangely Rushed Psalm Coda, July 23, 2002
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
To get the unpleasant news out of the way first ... the Symphony of Psalms is generally quite good, but is far from the best. There are runaway crescendos in which the full ensemble gets shriek-ey to a degree which is, actually, shocking for Boulez, who normally (witness the two instrumental selections on the disc) shows such refined sensitivity to Stravinsky's use of color.
But the strangest offense which Boulez here commits against Stravinsky is, the Signature Moment of the Symphony of Psalms, the wonderful coda to the third movement, one of Stravinsky's trademark Codas of Eternal Stillness, which floats off and melds into Time Itself. Unforgiveably, Boulez rushes this. Compounding the offense is the fact that this is billed as the 1948 revision of the Symphony of Psalms, a revision which primarily consisted in Stravinsky specifying refined tempos - and Stravinsky gives a tempo for the coda of 72 quarter-notes to the minute, where Boulez races through at more than twice this rate. Since this tempo specification is, you might say, the whole raison-d'être for the revision, Boulez missing this - a change which Eric Walter White, with somewhat amusing understatement, remarks "affects the speed of the coda" - is puzzling ... for he is a composer/conductor famed for his close reading of the score ....
But an overwhelming, thrice-welcome virtue which pervades this entire disc, is the vibrant colors, the faithfulness to Stravinsky's miraculous chords, so exquisitely voiced. Boulez here offers the original 1920 version of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which is really the only way to hear the piece: in later versions, Stravinsky made the ill-advised decision to remove the alto flute and alto clarinet (one passage, in particular, he had to re-compose, to accommodate the range of the regular flute), but these two `unusual' instruments are brilliant components in a number of delicately-scored passages (including just these two in duet) where, frankly, in later versions they are sore missed. I was especially pleased that the high clarinet motto which opens the Symphonies (and returns throughout the work) began so delicately ... it is a passage which can too easily be made shrill, and tire the ear - and while Stravinsky was a tireless seeker after striking colors, he did not aim to tire the ear. This is one reason why, for me, the piece succeeds so much more easily in a performance space, rather than reproduced from a recording; in a concert hall, the ear has more "breathing room", and this recurring high clarinet does not necessarily grow wearisome.
But all of Stravinsky's rich chords shimmer, hum, burr - especially, as we expect, the wonderful chorale which closes out the piece. This piece alone makes this disc a joy to listen to. Could almost say that the release of the last chord is alone worth the price of admission, only it would seem like fanaticism ....
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stravinsky to hear, March 26, 2000
By 
Greg Hales (Vacaville, Ca USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
This new Boulez/BPO Stravinksy disc is unique. The sound the orchestra produces is not normally one expects in Stravinksy but it works. The strings hold the lines with ease. In the symphony of pslams the woodwinds are fantastic with intonation and color. The openning of the second movement is a great example.
The symphonies of wind intstruments is the best playing I've heard....and I've heard quite abit....
In the symphony in 3 movements there are a few tempos slower than one expects...but the orchestra does a great job with the Boulez approach. I'm not 100% sold on his views in this piece but I will not that let stop me from recommending this disc. I am very happy to have purchased the disc and urge other to do the same
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between Objectivity and Passion, March 19, 2001
By 
Thomas F. Bertonneau (Oswego, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
I don't pretend to have a thorough knowledge of the discography of Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (1930), written on commission by Serge Koussevitsky for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I know the composer's stereo performance on Columbia, Igor Markevitch's on Philips, Neville Marriner's on London, and two or three others. Stravinsky's recording must be taken as authoritative, although I have always thought that Stravinsky was too austere in his self-interpertation. Markevitch, who uses Russian forces (recorded in the 1960s), is good. British performances miss the mark because the choristers sing too sweetly. It's the opposite interpretive sin from the composer's own. The recent DG disc with Pierre Boulez leading the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Chorus strikes me (based on my limited survey) as the best ever. I confess to having approached this disc with trepidation. Of Boulez the critics sometimes with justice say, "the Iceman cometh." But the champion of musical modernism, who lately has turned his hand to Mahler and (hard to believe) Bruckner, delivers a performance that does not sacrifice vitality to objectivity. Objective it is; no one, on hearing this, would mistake it for a devotional performance. But Stravinsky's passionless delivery is here redeemed by his interpreter's discovery that while the form of the Symphony comes from Bach its harmonies come from Debussy and that they have a life and a warmth (even) all their own. The major coupling is the Symphony in Three Movements. Eduardo Máta made a recording twenty years ago for RCA that still takes the laurels in this repertory, but Boulez reaches nearly the same level. The outer movements invoke the rhythmic pandemonium of "The Rite of Spring." The horns really whoop it up in the Third Movement. The central panel is relaxed in a balletically muscular way: Certain moments possess what might be called poignancy. (Aaron Copland must have listened attentively to this score.) The minor coupling is the plurally entitled "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" (1922). This is the source of the writing for winds in the Symphony of Psalms. Boulez makes it very ritualistic and brings out its relation to the music that another modernist, Edgar Varèse, was composing, in New York, at about the same time. Did Karajan record these works with the BPO? Probably, but I have never heard the results. As Boulez mellows into his seniority, his music-making becomes more attractive, warmer, more plastic and attractive. It's a superior item. Recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Herreweghe in Boulez-disguise, September 7, 2003
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
First of all:
The Berliner philharmoniker play precise and with attack.
Never mind those comments people often make, as if Von Karajan never died.

The symphony in three movements here on disc is next to Stravinsky's own recording probably the best available.
It comes closer to Stravinsky's own view than any other I heard, except the andante is played slower by Boulez and I actualy like it better that way: extremely gentle and refined.

Stravinsky himself didn't care that much for highlighting the gentle sites in his music scores, therefore many recordings of the firebird for instance top his own recording, like (ofcourse) Boulez', Dorati's and Gergiev's.

The symphonies of wind instruments is given a melancholic feel wich I never heard in this work.
Boulez the iceman?
But to be perfectly honest, this work will never become one of my favorites.
Still one of the best performances I heard
Another great recording is from Reinbert de Leeuw

The symphony of psalms is a rather strange work to my ears.
Extremely beautiful passages with some honest devotion are followed by kitschy Carl Orf-like passages which gives me the feeling at times that this work was originally written as a movie score and not the symphony in three movements.
The performance however is great.
If I didn't know Boulez was the conductor I would have thought it was Herreweghe himself, such a warmth and intimacy and that mystique-like quality.

Yes perhaps this performance doesn't come so close to Stravinsky's ideal and perhaps some pinsharp orchestral focussing is traded for smooth and warm legato. But it works very well, as it works perfectly well for Herreweghe in his Bach recordings.

There you have it: a great disc of probably the best conductor alive.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The wrong orchestra for this music., March 14, 2000
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
The absolute key to performing the music of Igor Stravinsky, whether it be Pulcinella or the Requiem Canticles, is a precise delineation of rhythm. This is of course true for all music, but it is especially true for Stravinsky. Rhythmic motivization and development is the basis for the propulsion and power of his musical thought, and any performance that does not clearly outline his rhythmic thinking is a poor one. This is where the Berlin Philharmonic, not Boulez, becomes the problem. The Berliners style of playing and sound is one in which all attacks (the initial playing of a musical note) are massively elongated and full. This is true whether the music is sustained and slow, or fast and choppy. They simply attack all notes, disregarding the tempo or character of the music, the same way. This gives them that familiar Berlin sound, a sound of undifferentiated mass. This may work for some music, but not for Stravinsky. As beautiful and ethereal as the Symphony of Psalms most certainly is, nearly 60 per cent of the piece is rhythmically detached and choppy. In the allegro of the 3rd movement, which absolutely DEPENDS on rhythmic detachment, the massive, granitic playing of the Berliners forces the music to fall apart, and the music becomes sloppy. When the music is slower and sustained, as in the second and final psalms, their style is more effective, but too often they become a big glob of sound-- pretty, but amorphous. The simple fact is that Boulez should have recorded this music with an American orchestra--an orchestra which can handle both the sustained, long-lined aspects of the music, and the rhythmically spiky ones. It's really too bad, because Boulez' conception of the piece is a wonderful one. But in his orchestral selection, he chose poorly.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some of the best performances of these pieces, June 5, 2002
By 
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
Before listening to this recording, I never really liked the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. I had heard several different performances of it, and never realized how expressive and beautiful the piece really is until I heard Boulez's version. I was quite excited by the subtle beauty that Boulez and the BPO wrench from the score...anyway that was my first impression of this disc.
As for the Symphony of Psalms, I was always partial to Stravinsky's own recording with the Toronto Festival Singers and the CBC symphony, but I have come to decide that the chorus on that recording is too small...plus Stravinsky was not the best of choral conductors. The sound of Boulez's BPO and the Berlin Radio Chorus gives the Symphony of Psalms a much richer feel. It sounds more like a Symphony, whereas Stravinsky's take feels almost like a chamber work. I personally prefer Boulez, but this may be a matter of taste.
I am not familiar with enough recordings of the Symphony in Three Movements to judge it fairly, however, I do believe that this is one of the best Stravinsky CD's I own (and I own quite a large number of Stravinsky CD's).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THERE WAS ROOM FOR MORE, May 15, 2005
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
By now we presumably ought to know what to expect from Boulez. His approach does not greatly suit me in Mahler, but in Stravinsky Boulez suits me down to the ground. Stravinsky changed his compositional style at various stages of his long career, but at any stage the quality I look for most in the performance and recording of his work is clarity, and clarity is Boulez's long suit. On this disc you will find complete precision from the instrumentalists, distinctness in the singing, sharply `terraced' dynamic levels and a sergeant-majorish strictness in the rhythm. This is exactly as I like Stravinsky done, and the recording does the effect full justice. I got only one surprise from the tempi chosen, a slowish beat for the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. However I found the effect really very successful, and the other speeds are much as I am used to them and as I like them.

The disc comes with the title `Boulez 2000' and was recorded in 1999, which I suppose is close enough. The liner-note is actually quite thoughtful and helpful provided you can understand it in the first place. The sequence of thought is meandering and the expression is heavy and turgid - I found that after a page and a half of Mr Griffiths' ramblings I had to go back to the start and retrace my steps to be sure of what he was even talking about. However I credit him with one particularly insightful and memorable statement regarding the Symphony of Psalms, that `The prayers are being voiced...by other people while the composer constructs. His is the symphony: theirs are the psalms.'

I had half a mind to deny the disc a fifth star by reason of short measure. The playing time comes to only 52 minutes, and I can see no good justification for not including the Symphony in C along with the other three symphonies. However on the basis that I am reviewing what is there and not what is not there I think five stars fair and just given the quality of both performances and sound. Boulez and Stravinsky go back a long way. On the inside of the front leaf of the booklet there is a picture of the pair of them from 1957, with a thirty-something Boulez showing a startling resemblance to Marlon Brando at the same age.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Boulez and Stravinsky: Should be Perfect..., October 6, 2006
By 
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
For this listener there still remains to be recorded the totally convincing masterpiece of Stravinsky - the 'Symphony of Psalms'. Somehow in live performances this wondrous piece holds grandeur and both an intellectual appeal as well as one of the more spiritually beautiful works in the 20th century repertoire. Boulez comes close in this performance with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus and yet there is a sense of distance in the tempi that keep the work grounded. It only takes an evening in the perfect acoustic of Disney Hall with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the LA Phil and the LA Master Chorale to prove just how magnificent the work can be: the rhythmic propulsions drive the work to the ultimate 'Alleluias' and 'Laudetes' that melt the heart.

But what Boulez misses in the Psalms he clearly owns the Symphony in Three Movements and gives a fine reading of the brilliant Symphonies of Wind Instruments, for 23 wind instruments (1947 version). The Berlin ensemble are responsive to every movement of his ticking mind and the results are performances that rank among the finest.

We will just have to wait for the definitive 'Symphony of Psalms': even Stravinsky's own Toronto ensemble recording doesn't make it sing the way it can....Grady Harp, October 06
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravissimo, December 30, 2006
By 
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
All I can say, is that when I listen to this CD - I can't imagine how it could be performed any better.

The only other recording I have of the Psalms and Symphony in 3 Movements is conducted by the composer (including Symp in C). While this (Stravinsky conducting) is certainly a fine performance, and perhaps more authentic to the composer's intentions, I find Boulez interpretation to be prime.

To me this is like listening to a performance of Bach by a real baroque orchestra (tuning, gut-strings, style and all) - you just get the sense that it's correct.

This is one of Boulez's great gifts to music - his understanding of modern music - and his ability to perform avant-garde in a way that works. Though this music could hardly be concidered avant-garde (even in its day), it is still modern and takes a distinct interpretation to pull it off.

Furthermore, these are quite possibly masterworks of the prolific composer. They usually stand in the shadow of his ballet-trinity (Rite, Petrushka, and Firebird), so this would be a great buy for anyone who would like to become familiar with some of his best music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A slower burner, but worth the wait., October 11, 2008
This review is from: Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Symphony in Three Movements; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Audio CD)
Anyone who likes Stravinsky's ballets and is not familiar with these works will be in for a surprise. They are certainly not as instantly accessible to the ear, but with repeated listening, one will realize these are some of the greatest pieces he ever wrote. I extremely disliked most of these works on first hearing, but in time I realized this is one of the greatest value CDs on the market today.

"Symphonies for Wind Instruments" which sounds more like a wind ensemble or chamber piece is the least emotional of all the works. That's not to say it's not great, it just has a more scherzo quality than the other serious pieces on this disc. The harmony in this piece alone is a good enough reason to listen.

What I'd really like to praise this disc is for the "Symphony of Psalms". I own many recordings of this work and this is my favorite recording of them all. The finale or coda of the second movement is conducted faster than most versions I've heard, yet it seems to fit what the piece calls for. Sometimes conductors changing things can really enhance a piece, even though this was probably not what Stravinsky intended. Boulez's interpretation of the Pslams (especially movement II) is fantastic. The brass on this work, especially the bass trombones sound fabulous.

The last work is probably the most difficult to listen to at first. It's such an odd piece that I still can't quite tell what mood the Symphony of Three Movements is in. It's so difficult to describe. This piece is very emotional yet cold at the same time. A new listener will likely think it's near-atonal garbage at first hearing. This work should be given patience as it is very powerful. I personally despise atonal music, and I love this work so the buyer should not be worried about anything on this CD being atonal because it's not. This is not Berg or Schoenberg music (thank goodness!). The colors in orchestration and the performance are very rich and delicate. Stravinsky's exceptional skill with rhythm is obvious in this piece. If I could only listen to one work from his neo-classical period, this would be it.
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