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Symphony in three movements

'Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements' (LSO0688)
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements
LSO0688  Download only   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Movement 1: Crotchet = 160
Movement 2: Andante – Più mosso – Tempo I
Movement 3: Con moto – Più presto – Meno mosso: Con moto

Symphony in three movements
‘The more characteristic a work of Stravinsky, the further it is from the symphonic idea’ wrote Robert Simpson in the long-superseded Pelican guide to the Symphony. Although Simpson may have been rather prescriptive in admitting the Symphony in Three Movements into the canon of 20th-century symphonies, he certainly admired this ‘brilliant and original work’, and he was right in the sense that the young Stravinsky’s attempt to write a well-made symphony under the guidance of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov – the E flat specimen of 1905–07, his official Opus One – has no individuality at all, while the Symphony in Three Movements is an utterly characteristic and dynamic masterpiece of his maturity. The hybrid origins of the work did, in fact, cause Stravinsky to wonder whether he ought not to have called the result ‘Three Symphonic Movements’. The first movement material, composed in 1942, was originally intended as a dark, tense concerto for orchestra with a role for the piano employed ‘concertante’ style. The piano then bowed out to harp in what became the second movement – sketches for Stravinsky’s unlikely (and swiftly terminated) contribution to Franz Werfel’s film The Song of Bernadette. The finale was completed some time later, before the New York premiere of 1946.

What unites the Symphony in Three Movements is the powering rhythmic intensity which holds the sectional structure together. It is the most insistent since The Rite of Spring over 30 years earlier and it has its roots in Stravinsky’s response to newsreel images of the Second World War which, in an unguarded moment, he specifically attached to certain sections. In the first movement, the timpani’s ‘rumba’ – ‘associated in my imagination with the movements of war machines’, he told Robert Craft – and the spiky shuffling of piano and strings yield to brighter, more lightly-scored sequences; but the ‘war’ element gains the upper hand in insistent, semiquaver figures for clarinet, piano and strings. These in turn lead to full-orchestral explosions which Stravinsky described as ‘instrumental conversations showing the Chinese people scratching and digging in their fields’ before being overrun by scorched-earth tactics. The writing for woodwind that follows is surely a requiem, although thanks to the movement’s uniform tempo, tension never slackens.

Bernadette’s vision, a cantabile flute melody offset by strings and harp, brings a change of air, though there is disquiet in this Andante’s middle section, as well as eloquent writing for string quartet. The brass, silent except for horns here, goose-steps into action near the start of the third movement – an image of military force as graphic as anything in the later symphonies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Stravinsky was unequivocal on the imagery of German arrogance, overturned and immobile in the fugue launched by trombone and piano before the Allies fight against the first movement’s ‘rumba’ figure and move on to victory. The composer’s disingenuous claim, ‘in spite of what I have said, the Symphony is not programmatic’ is best interpreted by noting that the description does not account for some of the surprisingly good-humoured invention along the way. It is, then, a symphony with war footage, but nothing as straightforward as a ‘war symphony’.

from notes by David Nice © 2011

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Details for LSO0688 track 4
Crotchet = 160
Recording date
8 May 2009
Recording venue
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
James Mallinson
Recording engineer
Jonathan Stokes
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  1. Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements (LSO0688)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: April 2012
    Download only
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