I like Robert Craft's Stravinsky: it's richly detailed, spirited, free of eccentricity – in short, it's exciting. This new release is part of the ongoing Naxos series devoted to the Craft/Stravinsky recordings, most of which were previously issued on Koch International and MusicMasters, which is the case with the four works offered here. The sound on all is excellent, and since Craft always seems a stickler for clarity, the listener hears much detail – meaningful detail – often buried in other recordings. In fact, if I had to characterize Craft's approach to Stravinsky, I would note his attention to detail and precision as his foremost qualities.
In the Symphony in Three Movements the piano is in the foreground of the sonic spectrum, as it should be but often isn't in other recordings, like the Boulez (DGG 457616-2), which is otherwise a fine effort. In Craft's hands the first movement is filled with tension and rhythmic drive, but also exudes an epic character in its darker and thunderous undercurrents. The ensuing Andante is not as relaxed as in other recordings: it has an edginess, a sense the humorous and sometimes ethereal character is on the brink of something sinister. The finale is powerful with its thumping percussion, rambunctious winds and seething strings. There's not a hint of emotion here, as one heard in the old Klemperer recording on EMI. This Craft recording would now be my first choice in this work over the likes of Sir Colin Davis, Karajan, Solti and others.
The Symphony in C is just as convincing: the slashing first movement is filled with energy and spirit, and is bold and rich in detail. The ensuing panel is dreamy and ethereal, with a blend of fine playing by winds and strings. The Allegretto third movement is deliciously playful here, while the finale deftly shifts from the sinister and frenetic to the humorous, before gently recalling the first movement's main theme. In both symphonies the Philharmonia Orchestra plays splendidly for Craft.
The performances of the Octet and Dumbarton Oaks Concerto show that Craft is just as adept in leading chamber music. The Octet is scored for flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets and two trombones, while the Concerto is for ten string players and flute, clarinet, bassoon and two horns. Both are engaging lighter Stravinsky works, and Craft captures their colorful souls in these fine performances by the Orchestra of St. Luke's. As with the several earlier performances in this series I reviewed here, I can give this CD an enthusiastic recommendation.
Copyright © 2009, Robert Cummings