“STRAVINSKY in 4 Deals” = Violin Con.; Jeu de cartes; Movements – Soloists/Stravinsky – Praga Digitals

This album serves as a microcosm of Stravinsky’s evolving musical styles, in four performances expertly restored. 

STRAVINSKY in 4 Deals” = Violin Concerto in D; Pulcinella – Suite; Jeu de cartes; Movements for Piano and Orchestra – David Oistrakh, violin/ Concerts Lamoureux/ Bernard Haitink/ Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer/ Bavarian Radio-Sym. Orch./ Igor Stravinsky/ Margrit Weber, p./ Radio-Sym. Berlin/ Ferenc Fricsay – Praga Digitals PRD 250 329, 78:37 (8/12/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:  

Praga assembles four distinct Stravinsky performances, 1937-1963, that realize the mercurial nature of the composer’s style, especially after his departure from Romanticism and the throes of Le Sacre du Printemps. Both the Pulcinella Suite (1922; rev. 1947) after Pergolesi and the Violin Concerto (1931) embrace neo-Classical ambitions, while Jeu de cartes (1936) – a ballet in “three deals” – ironically adopts both Classical and Expressionist modes. The late Movements for Piano and Orchestra of 1959 proffers Stravinsky’s version of pulverized materials in the style of Webern and serial technique. Of the four performances, three derive from studio recordings, while the Stravinsky reading of his own card game comes to us live – and in brash, exemplary mono sound – from Munich, 4 October 1957.

The Violin Concerto (rec. 2-3 June 1963) evolved in Paris, under the technical advice of violinist Samuel Dushkin, who made the first recording, with the composer in 1935. The angular mode of Stravinsky’s lyricism likely owes debts to his concertante violin writing in L’Histoire du Soldat. David Oistrakh brings his impeccable lyric and versatile style to the performance, and Haitink, as always, remains the soul of rhythmic accuracy. The opening movement, Toccata, aptly named, dazzles with color and pungent syncopations.  The same chord invokes each of the four movements, although the ensuing Aria I and Aria II exploit the sequence with a haunting, chamber music sensibility. The Capriccio indulges in some virtuosic pyrotechnics, jabbing at us and skyrocketing in whimsical runs in rhythmically alert accents. Some nice work between Oistrakh and the Lamoureux bassoon and barking brass should remind us that irony never leaves the Stravinsky ethos.

Otto Klemperer leads the suite (rec. February-May 1963) of nine pieces that comprise Pulcinella, the “gateway to the past. .  .through which my late work became possible,” noted Stravinsky. Happily, the music moves fleetly and graciously, eschewing Klemperer’s late-style penchant for stodgy or moribund tempos. The Philharmonia string and wind sections, as per expectation, deliver a richly textured sound, especially in the ensemble’s violas, clarinet and oboe.  Much of the writing remains within small chamber-music groups, so individual colors emerge in “olden style.” The historical attribution of the original musical texts has passed away from “Pergolesi” to candidates Wassenauer, Gallo, Monza, and Parisotti, but at no cost to alternately lyrical and raucous resetting of the harmonies to suit Stravinsky’s textures. Warm and affectionate, the performance now boasts superb sound, so when the Philharmonia brass exert themselves, the effect achieves a noble pomp.

The Movements for Piano and Orchestra – despite an exemplary collaboration between Margrit Weber and Ferenc Fricsay (5 October 1961) generates little “sympathy” as such for its serial figures. It was for the soloist’s Swiss industrialist husband that Stravinsky accepted the commission; that, and the composer’s own fascination with the concentrated scores of Anton Webern. Stravinsky deliberately created what he calls an “anti-tonal” progression, and he avoids triadic harmony in favor of linear, often contrapuntal effects. The piano part serves as a kind of pivot-foot for small gestures that may or may not move us emotionally.

—Gary Lemco

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