Stravinsky 'Symphonies' RFH, London; Jewish Liturgical Music St John's, Smith Square

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The Independent Culture
Stravinsky's mature "symphonies" are the products of varied inner- promptings. The austere Symphony of Psalms melds personal religiosity with contrapuntal ingenuity; the balletic Symphony in C understates family tragedy (Stravinsky had recently lost his eldest daughter); the explosive Symphony in Three Movements was inspired, at least in part, by harrowing wartime film footage, and the concise Symphonies of Wind Instruments is dedicated to the memory of Debussy, who had died just a couple of years before the work was composed.

Sunday night's interpretations by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier were bluff, fairly energetic and somewhat generalised. The Symphonies of Wind Instruments was presented in its more exotic - and rather more colourful - 1920 "original" version, but Tortelier's soft- core reading compromised the rawness, savagery and mystical intensity of Stravinsky's highly compressed structure. The Symphony in Three Movements emerged as swift and deadpan, with a rather prosaic slow movement and finale that only really came to life for the final two minutes. Parts of the Symphony in C worked well, the middle movements especially (the Larghetto concertante was sweetly expressed), but the first movement seemed hurried and one rarely sensed that the players were listening to each other. Furthermore, the fierce central climax - Stravinsky as heard ranting from a Tchaikovskian soap-box - was conspicuously low in shock-value. The Symphony of Psalms saw the benefit of a full-throated contribution from the LSO chorus and some judicious tempos from the rostrum; Stravinsky's novel scoring sounded well from the RFH stage (there are no upper strings, just cellos and basses, plus winds, two pianos, harp and percussion) and the Laudate Dominum's heavenly "Alleluias" retained their full measure of "tingle-factor". It was a worthy performance ... good enough, certainly, to appreciate the work's greatness, but far from distinctive.

Stravinsky's interest in Renaissance music would no doubt have extended to Salomone de' Rossi's delightful setting of Psalm 146, included as part of a concert of choral and cantorial works by American, European and Israeli composers given on Wednesday evening at St John's, Smith Square by the BBC Singers with David Lester at the keyboard (organ or piano) and the Greek-born, American-based Cantor Alberto Mizrahi as soloist. The conductor was Malcolm Singer, who contributed two Psalm settings of his own, the first of which, "Shout to the Lord All the Earth", is harmonically adventurous and makes imaginative use of echo effects. Cantor Mizrahi's forceful tenor brought plenty of zest to the Ravelian Coplas Sephardies by Alberto Hemsi, and the viola player Rivka Golani lent mellow support both to Srul Irving Glick's warming "Summer is Praying" - a piece that Golani herself had commissioned - and to the closing "traditional table song", "Lord of the World". Singer's programme ranged from the cloud-like tiers of Tzvi Adni's "The City Plays Hide and Seek" to the heartfelt beseeching of Leonard Bernstein's "Hashkiveinu"; from Kurt Weill's bluesy "Kiddush" to the brief but fetching "Shomeir Yisroel" by Darius Milhaud. But it was the Cantor from Chicago who stole the show, with florid declamations and a couple of cheery encores to send us on our way.