Stravinsky's first New York recordings were made on a single day in April 1940, at a time when he was seeking refuge in the USA from war-torn Europe. They form a kind of pivot in his career on record for behind him was a fair amount of activity in European studios, and to come there would be an extensive programme for American companies.
To record the complete Rite in one day on eight 78rpm sides was in itself quite a feat, but Stravinsky then went on to tackle a Petrushka suite. This comprises part of the first tableau, from just before the showman's flute solo until the end; the complete second tableau; and part of the fourth, from the peasant dances until the concert ending (before the appearance of Petrushka's ghost). If the New York orchestra were tired from their exertions in the Rite they show no sign, for Stravinsky secures a very lively, dramatic performance.
By this time he was a far more experienced practitioner on the rostrum than he had been in the late 1920s, when he made his first, somewhat shaky attempts at the early ballet scores for French Columbia. In some respects this 1940 Rite is the best of his three recordings, since he tends to take more risks, and adopts more challenging tempos than in his last, 1960 version (Sony Classical, 7/91). By and large the New York orchestra respond splendidly, and if there are a few mishaps, nothing goes seriously wrong until the ''Sacrificial Dance'' when there are some blatant inadequacies in the brass section. It is indeed only a virtuoso display of underpinning by the timpanist at crucial points which keeps the performance going. I also have to report, alas, a more recent lapse, since the bass clarinet's downward rushing semiquavers, immediately before the ''Sacrificial Dance'', are missing in Pickwick's transfer, though they are present on the original 78s.
When making their own LP transfers, Columbia's engineers had the advantage of using the company's own duplicate sets of masters, made with great foresight on large acetate transcription blanks at the original sessions. Pickwick have had to use commercial shellac pressings, and their transfers are naturally more variable, though they are not inexpert.
The 1934 performances of the Piano-Rag Music and Ragtime have been made familiar through EMI's own transfers (5/93), but the more obscure Pulcinella excerpts seem to have caused Pickwick some confusion. What we have are the three numbers recorded by Stravinsky in 1928, yet the documentation, though quoting the correct matrix numbers, gives a record number relating to a later group of excerpts recorded in 1932—there would have been plenty of room on the CD for both.
Given the slightly incomplete Rite transfer, the inadequate and at one point garbled insert-notes, and the fact that the disc has just five tracks (only one for the whole of the Rite ), it is clear that Pickwick's offering is only good in parts.'