STRAVINSKY Performs STRAVINSKY = Petrushka ‘Ballet Scenes’ Suite; The Firebird Suite; Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra – Igor Stravinsky, piano and cond./Walther Straram Concerts Orch./ Ernest Ansermet (Capriccio) – Dutton CDBP 9814, 68:33 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Stravinsky leads an anonymous ensemble of British musicians in the extended (seven movements) Petrushka Suite (27-28 June 1928), likely a composite of LPO and LSO members, and the result startles in its clarity and color acumen. The Shrovetide Fair, for example, adds various bells and chimes to enhance the carnival atmosphere. The density reminds one of the visual fame in a movie by Josef von Sternberg, like Dishonored. Menace and gothic tension suffuse Le Tour de Passe-Passe, when the Russian Dance dispels any gloom with motley colors that include the piano as a percussive addition. More melodrama enters with both In Petrushka’s Room and The Blackamoor’s Room. Keyboard and woodwinds create their own minor concerto, the rhythms already suggestive of the revolutionary Le Sacre du Printemps. With the return of The Shrovetide Fair, the orchestral panoply achieves the kind of luminosity we associate with the likes of Albert Coates in Russian music. Glowing syncopations mark the progression and whirling spectacle as it moves by lumbering leaps and pentatonic bounds to the Dance of the Coachmen and Finale.
Dutton has obscured the recording dates for Stravinsky’s inscription of eight movements of The Firebird, but it would appear to be 8 November 1928 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris. The Enchanted Garden moves briskly, though the visceral string glissandi lose none of their impact. The athletic marcato of the Entry and Dance of the Firebird wakens us to the incandescent magic to be wrought from the Straram Orchestra. The cadences quite leap and skitter in authentic ballet fashion. Stravinsky’s harmony borrows heavily from his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov for The Firebird beseeches Prince Ivan to release her, touched perhaps by colors from Liadov that composer remained too indolent to commit to paper. Two scenes invoking the young princesses follow, testaments to Stravinsky’s marvelous color palette. After the latter scene, the idyllic Rondo of the Princesses, we feel the full, sudden fury of the Danse Infernale of King Kastchei and Demons, noses snorting sulfur and feet scampering in a parody of Tchaikovsky’s Mouse-King. The Berceuse presents a marvel, acoustically and emotionally intact, rising without pause to the celebratory Marriage of the Firebird and Prince Ivan by virtue of those magical harp, string, and flute riffs of veiled transparency that enshrine this score in our hearts.
Stravinsky conceived his jazzy Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1926-1929) as his own virtuoso vehicle by which he might earn his living after his having fled Russia’s new revolutionary government. Stravinsky and good friend Ernest Ansermet recorded the work 8-10 May 1930 in Paris, a year after they had given the world premier. Stravinsky noted that the Konzertstueck in F Minor by Carl Maria von Weber provided the model for his own piece, in spite of its modernist tendencies in the manner of Les Six. The opening Presto maintains a neo-classical severity about it, reminiscent of the Symphony in 3 Movements. The Andante rapsodico combines elements of Liszt and Ravel, lithe and flirtatious before assuming a more toccata affect in the manner of the Weber original. A cadenza of sorts makes a parlando appearance, runs in heavy scales and trills, then joins the muted orchestra to segue to the Allegro capriccioso ma tempo gusto, which was the first movement to be composed. This music evinces a boulevardier character, and we could mistake it for Poulenc or Ibert. The Cotton Club finds a residence near the Eiffel tower. The animated figures, airy and acrobatic, gain in luminosity and intensity, again toccata-style, and the piece concludes with a decided twirl of the mustache.
A gloriously vivid sonic document!