STRAVINSKY: Apollon Musagete–Ballet; Oedipus Rex–Opera; Symphonies for Wind Instruments; Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; Jeu de Cartes–Ballet; Symphony in 3 Movements – Music & Arts (2)

by | May 20, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

STRAVINSKY: Apollon Musagete–Ballet; Oedipus Rex–Opera; Symphonies for Wind Instruments; Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; Jeu de Cartes–Ballet; Symphony in 3 Movements – Maria Bergmann, piano/ Peter Pears, tenor/ Martha Moedl, mezzo-soprano/ Heinz Rehfuss, baritone/ Otto von Rohr, bass/ Hermut Krebs, tenor/ Werner Hessenland, narrator/ Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and Men’s Choir (Apollo; Oedipus)/ Orchestra of the SW German Radio, Baden-Baden/ Igor Stravinsky cond.

Music & Arts CD-1184, 78:40; 71:22 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Two sets of inscriptions, 1951 and 1954, feature conductor Igor Stravinsky leading his own music. Stories abound regarding Stavinsky’s relative competencies as an orchestra leader: it seems he never bothered to commit many of his own scores to memory. His insecure baton technique often led to heated arguments between him and orchestra musicians about matters of tempo and accents, articulation, bowing, the quality of staccato, the length of decayed notes, ad infinitum. Yet Stravinsky stated that his recordings of his own works would clarify the scores and counter the “excesses” of other conductors’ realizations. Every new engagement with one of his own scores meant that “this” version was the most “authentic.” So, caveat emptor!  Enjoy these performances for their historical and musical value, and ignore the dogma attached to Stravinsky’s musical politics, since Ansermet, Monteux, Dorati, Bour, Rosbaud, Klemperer, Markevitch and Bernstein proved many times their superior craft in negotiating the master’s scores.

The two previously issued commercial performances, Apollo and Oedipus Rex, date from the same Cologne concert 8 October 1951.  The Columbia LP (ML 4644) spliced a narration made in 1952 by Jean Cocteau in lieu of the German narration by Werner Hessenland.  Stravinsky’s performance of his “white ballet,” Apollo and  the Muses, is slower in tempo than those by Evgeny Mravinsky and Robert Irving.  I recall speaking to Jacques d’Ambroise of the NYC Ballet about arguments between Balanchine and Stravinsky regarding tempos, which in ballet performance must be constantly adjusted. The fifth section, the Variation of Polyhymnia, clearly borrows from Tchaikovsky’s C Major Serenade. On record, Oedipus Rex plays a static opera, moving from explanatory narration to rather didactic musical representation of the Classic tragedy. Jokasta (Moedl) calls Oedipus‚ insistence on pursuing the past “trivial” – a nice touch, since it puns on the fateful place where three roads meet!  Good sound for the period; and it is a rare pleasure to hear baritone Heinz Rehfuss, so gifted in Brahms repertory, used to good service in modern music.

The materials from 21 May 1954 Baden-Baden are previously unissued broadcasts, in good sound. Using Rosbaud’s well-drilled orchestra, Stravinsky elicits a light, lithe series of performances, no heavy feet in any of these renditions. The Wind Symphonies, composed in memory of Claude Debussy, maintain a taut line and ceremonial character. The Capriccio with Maria Bergmann on the piano part moves briskly. Most comfortable is Stravinsky’s energetic way with Jeu de Cartes, each of the “deals” is crisp, articulated with vivid, transparent sonority by the Baden-Baden woodwinds.  Tip of the bow playing in the strings. The music is pure roughage, the emphasis on dry sound a cleansing tonic to lush, Romantic pomp and clutter. The French notion of less-is-more dominates, a stone’s throw to Offenbach, Poulenc, Ibert,  and Les Six.  I have always enjoyed the virile energy of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, ever since I first heard it with Klemperer. The piano obbligato is again performed by Maria Bergmann. Bustling, even bristling, the piece always communicates verve and invention in an idiom close to the spirit of the neo-Classical in American music.

— Gary Lemco