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STRAVINSKY Canticum Sacrum, Agon & Requiem Canticles

Canticum Sacrum for tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra (1956)
Agon: Ballet for twelve dancers (1954– 57)
Requiem Canticles for contralto, bass, chorus and orchestra (1971)

Soloists, Vocal Ensemble Stuttgart, SWR SO Baden-Baden/Michael Gielen

Haenssler Classics 93.226

This was like a welcome draught of pure fresh water after a surfeit of lush Messiaen in London's extensive centenary celebrations.

Stravinsky's espousal of serialism in late life was shocking at the time, but sounds quite different upon revisiting now. Of these, only Agon has established itself in the dance and concert repertoire. It gets a pellucid interpretation from Gielen (who is well remembered from his stint a chief guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and for many of us it is one of Stravinsky's most endearing compositions. So should have become Requiem Canticles, a "pocket requiem" which became his last independent major composition whilst he faced his own physical decline with stoical irony, and it was played at his own funeral service in Venice. It is very beautiful music and there are 33 bell strokes evoking a Russian Orthodox service of his youth.

Canticum Sacrum remains austere, but its awkward melodic lines are nowadays sung with ease by experienced interpreters of contemporary music, and this is a convincing account of a work which will never become popular, but must not be overlooked in reviewing his oeuvre.

A timely and recommendable release, recorded with clarity and presented with full words and their sources (though not translated).The texts and commentaries are printed small and grey rather than black, making for some difficulty if you have imperfect eyesight.

Peter Grahame Woolf