The iconic Igor Stravinsky conducting his own works ‘live’ is a major event, and the 1958 gala event was no exception.
‘Music and Musicians’ wrote “even Stravinsky, apostle of clarity, could not complain of the brilliance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s attack or clean and faultless line of its phrasing. Seized as it was on this night with a sense of occasion, it can play like a band of angels.”
Both the ballet scores, ‘Agon’ and ‘Apollo’ (formerly named ‘Apollon Musagète), were recorded by Stravinsky in the studio after their respective premieres in 1957 and 1950, and then again in the 1960s. The ‘Symphony in 3 Movements’ was first recorded in the studio by Stravinsky in 1946.
There are some European air-checks of ‘Agon’ and ‘Apollo’ but the BBC’s own master tapes are of superb quality.
Stravinsky concluded the concert with three excerpts from the 1945 ‘Firebird’, but timing only permitted the Finale to be included here.
Igor Stravinsky: Agon
Pas de quatre
Double Pas de quatre
Triple Pas de quatre
Pas de deux
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony in 3 Movements
I. Quarter note = 160
II. Andante - Interlude: L'estesso tempo
III. Con moto
Igor Stravinsky: Apollo
Tableau I: Naissance d'Apollon
Tableau II: Variation de Apollon: Apollon et les Muses
Tableau II: Pas d'action: Apollon et les trois Muses, Calliope, Polymnie et Tersichore
Tableau II: Variation de Calliope (l'Alexandrin)
Tableau II: Variation de Polyhymnie
Tableau II: Variation de Terpsichore
Tableau II: Variation d'Apollon
Tableau II: Pas de deux: Apollon et Terpsichore
Tableau II: Coda: Apollon et les Muses
Tableau II: Apotheose
Igor Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird) (1911 version)
L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird): Tableau II: Finale
“Having only four rehearsals at his disposal, Stravinsky achieved remarkable results… Although the performance of Agon is hardly pristine, there's a greater sense of rhythmic tension in the performance than the more technically secure studio recording made by the composer...”
1st March 2009
“Agon was then new, and is not the easiest work to play even now...but the performance... generally does its marvellous inventions justice, showing again that annexing serial techniques only made Stravinsky more characteristically and inimitably himself. The BBC strings’ Apollo, if not the most elegant in the world, is warm-hearted and full of life. The end of Firebird, played as an encore, rounds off a truly historic disc.”
27th March 2009
“Their tense astringency is compelling, and the sense of a very special occasion is palpable from the start.”
18th February 2009
“Conducting his own music on a visit to London in 1958, he gives his recently composed ballet music Agon a fiercely angular reading, full of snap and fizz.
The Symphony is given a similarly committed performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, though they seem at moments to escape the composer's baton. Only in the neo-classical Apollo is a little lyricism allowed to round the edges”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.