I'm very reluctant to accuse Sir Simon Rattle of being fussy, as he's a fine conductor and this Stravinsky disc is full of wonderful playing and ravishing details that one can only get from Rattle and his Berliners. But I get the sense he's trying too hard to get his point across, as he weighs each note and phrase to the point that it sounds forced. It's too bad, given the unequalled sound of his mighty orchestra, an orchestra that he has taken to new heights. EMI's 2008 releases of Rattle (this, the Berlioz, and the Mussorgsky and Borodin discs) all seem to have some of the same flaws. Thankfully he's produced stunning discs since then, the Brahms (2009) and Schoenberg (2011) in particular.
The Symphony in Three Movements is a rather severe work, one full of biting dissonances. Rattle tries to make it sound not so harsh, possibly an admirable idea, but the work is inherently rough, making Rattle's attempt problematic. It sounds as if though he's trying to make all the biting dissonances easier on the ear, but I don't think it would have hurt to unleash more power; terror isn't always bad. But Rattle still has plenty of special things to say, especially in the 2nd movement. It would be unfair to deny that there are moments when the music achieves total liftoff. Every detail will be captured with the well-calculated precision, making it worth the listen for me.
The Symphony of Psalms is full of gorgeous playing from Berliners, and the Berlin Radio Choir is superb. Sadly, as with Rattle's Brahms' Requiem, EMI doesn't achieve a good balance between the orchestra and choir. Once again, Rattle seems to be enamored with making something out of every note and phase, but it can sound too superficial. I would love more real passion and drama. But as in the Symphony in Three Movements, I can't deny the glory of what is present. Rattle does know how to deliver some very special moments, even if there are times when he could have "let loose" a bit more.
I find myself more sympathetic with Rattle's account of the Symphony in C. I'm not sure if it's because the work can handle Rattle's approach better than the other two symphonies or if it's because the Rattle himself has changed. Most likely it is a bit of both; Rattle is still slightly fussy, just not to the same extent. Either way, there's a lot to enjoy in these neoclassical work, with fully involved playing from Rattle and the Berliners. The orchestral playing is every bit as good, if not better, but Rattle doesn't seem as superficial. Rattle makes this work very fun, and this time his approach more suited to the music. I hear lots of real emotion with the music coming unburdened to the surface. This may not be Rattle's best Berlin effort (it's not), but there's enough to enjoy in this performance to make it worth your time.
In closing, this disc features stunning orchestral playing that reveals breathtaking details. I just wish Rattle could have let go a bit more and not have been so fussy.
This was rated the best available recording of Stravinsky's Symphony in C in Radio 3's generally brilliant Building a Library, 24/10/09. (With Tilson-Thomas/LSO about as good.) The Radio 3 reviewer said the recording was a compilation from 3 consecutive nights at the Philharmonie in Berlin. So definitely Live but with a few edits presumably.
We would have expected Rattle peformances of these very exciting pieces, some of the best Stravinsky but not often enough performed, to be correspondingly exciting. But, somehow, they just aren't. They lack some of the bite and thrust which is essential for these pieces. Nevertheless, the recording is good and they are offered at a bargain price.
Not the biggest Stravinsky fan, but I keep coming back to this disc. I particularly want to hear the Symphony in C, probably because of its clarity and elegant facade. The other two pieces are notably more dramatic, I think. Excellent singing and instrumental playing.
I just want to know, what exactly does "in concert" mean? Live and maybe padded with rehearsal takes? Strictly live on the night? Not live at all? Someone else review this disc and please explain.