Stravinsky recorded many of his works more than once, becoming more adept as a conductor as the years went by. These recordings from the 1950s are not his last word and sometimes (most notably with the singers in Pulcinella) the performance falls far short of his later, stereo remakes. But at their best, particularly in the Octet and the L'Histoire du Soldat suite, these performances are dazzling. They reflect a time when Stravinsky was younger and more vigorous than in the stereo era, and they deserve to be well known. --Joe McLellan
Amazon's reviewer mentions the splendid Histoire and Octet. Stravinsky did stereo versions in 1961, though the stereo Histoire features Los Angeles musicians, including violinist Israel Baker, rather than the New York-based musicians in this 1954 version, which includes violinist Alexander Schneider. All of these are excellent, but the Histoire and Octet here, in excellent mono sound, get my vote as more dramatic and exciting overall.
The original LP of the Histoire and Octet is a rare collector's item (the excellent notes to this set, by Tim Page, actually mention this), and the CD sound is superior to that of the original LPs, so it's great to see this set at a low price again. Grab it quickly before only the expensive ones are left.
Stravinsky remembers the production of Pulcinella at the Paris opera in 1920, as one of his most theatrical experiences. Imagine the prodigious spectacle: scenery and costumes by Picasso and Ernest Ansermet conducting: A true God's dish.
In this recording we have to the composer in front of one of the most dynamical orchestras at that special moment. Recorded in December 14, 1953, Severance Hall, Cleveland.
The exquisite cast included Mary Simmons, Soprano, Glenn Schnittke, Tenor and Phillip MacGregor, Bass.
The kiss of the fairy has other superior readings such Ansermet Suisse Romande for instance and I guess The Symphony in C is interesting but without dazzling spirit.
But the collection is important for all hard collector that wishes to follow the traces of the music in the XX Century.
A historical issue all the way.
CD 1 and half of CD 2 derive from sessions with the Cleveland Orch. in Dec. 1955. The works are The Fairy's Kiss, Sym. in C, and Pulcinella (complete with vocal soloists, in this case local Clevelandrs, I believe). CD 2 is rounded out with the L'Histoire du Soldat Suite and the Octet, derived from sessions in Jan. 1954 in New York. The small ensemble consists of outstanding freelances and members of the NY Phil. They are recorded cearly and very close up.
The Cleveland recordings re in spacious, detailed monaural sound that has remastered very well; these could be mistaken for modern recordings. Stravinsky made very good stereo remakes of the Sym. in C and Pulcinella, but the earlier versions are tidier and better played. The composer was somewhat less fierce in the Sym. in C in 1955. A deciding factor in Pulcinella might be that the vocal soloists in the later, stereo version are so much better -- the Cleveland singers really struggle at times.
His remakes of The Fairy's Kiss and L'Histoire weren't nearly as good as these early accounts, however, in terms of rhythmic vigor and ensemble.
Which leaves the Octet. I haven't listened to the stereo remake recently - I did audition all the others -- but this early one is exceptionally good, and with a small chamber group it hardly matters that it's in mono.
In the final analysis, everything on these two CDs shows Stravinsky the conductor at his best. I assume that the sellers at Amazon are offering the deluxe packaaging of the original releases on Masterworks Heritage -- at these prices, they should be.