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Robert Benson, June 2011

If you wish to have a high quality set of many of Stravinsky’s major orchestral works, check out this Newton Classics 4-CD set of performances conducted by Charles Dutoit with Montreal forces. All were made 1984–1992 during his long tenure with the orchestra (1977–2002) before his acrimonious resignation because of a dispute with the musicians’ union…If you find the repertory of interest, these versions are very well recorded. However there are numerous other recordings of these major works—none of these are among the top versions—but this is budget price—and a memento of happier days in Montreal.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2011

Here is one of those sets that raises the question, are critics superfluous? It also raises the subsidiary question: Is refining your collection to critics’ preferences superfluous?

All of these are famous performances recorded between 1984 and 1994 and issued separately over the years by Decca. Being efforts by one of the greatest conductors of our age, none of them are poor, disappointing, or lacking in interest. Several are phrased more lyrically and are less rhythmically pungent than the best performances hailed by critics. I can’t say, honestly, that all are first choices, or that they represent the works exactly the way the composer envisioned them. But there’s nothing wrong with any of them, and any neophyte who happens to grab this set because it conveniently combines all three of Stravinsky’s early ballets with other major works and some interesting incidental pieces will neither be disappointed nor in a rush to replace most of them, given the current state of the economy and Newton’s most attractive price of $32 for the four-CD set.

If this performance of Sacre lacks some forward momentum, Dutoit compensates by providing a reading that is both warm and detailed—and one must consider that this is the far less common 1921 orchestration. In Petrushka, again, I found myself thinking of performances with more rhythmic backbone (my favorites, Eugene Goossens on an ancient Everest LP and David Zinman on Telarc), but there’s so much detail here I’ve never heard before: for instance, “In the Moor’s Room,” where he employs rubato on the horns’ repeated asides just a hair, which adds a sinister quality to the proceedings. The orchestral etudes are also remarkably fine, and here Dutoit changes his (and the orchestra’s) stylistic approach to match Stravinsky’s post-World War I style. I also love Dutoit’s reading of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments: It has exactly the right touch to make the music lyrical and attractive despite its pungent harmonies. Chant du Rossignol is also a fine performance, but here I prefer the famous recording by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra.

Ansermet also comes to mind when listening to Dutoit’s Firebird. The two different performances actually complement one another. In CD 4, which starts with the “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto and concludes with Apollon musagète, Dutoit probably has much stronger competition, notably from Robert Craft as well as Stravinsky himself. When this was first issued, several critics in fact complained about Dutoit’s soft-edged approach, but I find this to be the most conventionally “Stravinskian” of the four discs. Yet again—these are individual excursions, not necessarily urtext or benchmark readings. So what? Dutoit doesn’t soften the music so much that it loses all shape or excitement, as so many modern conductors are wont to do, but he does produce an odd and interesting effect, and that is to often suspend the rhythms in such a way that you feel “caught in the moment” and are focused on the textures and colors of the music.

I recently read an article by one of the producers of Stravinsky’s Columbia recordings. He called Stravinsky one night after a session to mention that he conducted one of the works (I forget which now) much slower and with a more legato feel than in the score, and asked Stravinsky if he’d like to consider making another take. The composer said no. It was a case of “This is how I feel now,” not “This is what I felt when I wrote it.” I’m glad Stravinsky stuck to his guns, as it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that when the composer is also a performer he can, and will, make changes to his own music as time goes on and the mood hits him.

Iif you’re a home listener who enjoys classical music and wants to explore Stravinsky in some depth without spending too much of your food money, get this set. You’ll discover so many little details in these scores that, whether you know them or not, you’ll be delighted and surprised.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, November 2010

Dutoit’s Stravinsky is…controlled, dramatic, and colorful in a sharp-edged way. Everything is cast in high relief, with emphasis on soloists, especially woodwinds, abetted by Decca’s open acoustic, powerful bass, and clear placement.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Blair Sanderson, August 2010

Charles Dutoit and the Montréal Symphony Orchestra made these recordings of music by Igor Stravinsky between 1984 and 1992, in the early years of digital reproduction. Thanks to splendid playing, brilliant engineering, and excellent acoustics, the recordings sound exceptional for their time, completely free of the shallow and cold tone of many CDs of the era, and they are still competitive among later audiophile releases. Dutoit specialized in 20th century music, and his Stravinsky was praised for being especially responsive to the music’s needs. This is why his recording of L’oiseau de feu can sound so lush and rich with impressionistic sonorities, while his account of Apollon musagète is as austere and sober as this neo-Classical ballet demands. In between these two works is almost the full range of Stravinsky’s varied styles and expressions, except for the absence of his religious music and the lack of his late twelve-tone works. For anyone starting to appreciate Stravinsky, knowing the early ballets—L’oiseau de feu, Petrushka, and Le Sacre du printemps—is de rigueur, and Dutoit’s renditions are superb. The other early works, such as Feu d’artifice, Scherzo fantastique, and Chant du rossignol, round out the portrait of the young Stravinsky, and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Four Etudes provide a transition to the middle neo-Classical period. This is amply represented on the fourth CD, which presents the Concerto in E flat major, “Dumbarton Oaks,” the Danses concertantes, the Concerto in D, and Apollon musagète. The dry, “objective” tone Stravinsky favored in this style is accurately rendered in these crisp performances with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, and Dutoit’s interpretations are idiomatic and exciting.

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8:50:21 PM, 4 March 2015
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