STRAVINSKY: Petrushka; DEBUSSY: La Boite à joujoux — Seattle Sym. /Ludovic Morlot — Seattle Sym. Media

A vibrant new “Petrushka” and a Debussy rarity make for great listening.

IGOR STRAVINSKY: Petrushka; CLAUDE DEBUSSY: La Boite à joujoux (“The Toy Box”) — Seattle Sym./Ludovic Morlot — Seattle Sym. Media SSM1010, 68:33 *****:

The Seattle Symphony and its current music director, Ludovic Morlot, are on a real run here lately and especially since they have focused their recording on twentieth-century masterworks and on their own label. I urge you to check out their recent Henri Dutillieux albums or Morlot’s Rite of Spring coupled with the rich but obscure Raskatov Piano Concerto. This is but an example of what is coming out of Benaroya Hall lately and it’s all wonderful; including this latest sparkling new rendition of the complete Petrushka.

This new Petrushka is wonderfully paced and Morlot brings out all the nuance and picturesque quality of Stravinsky’s ballet featuring the very symbolic escapades of the title harlequin puppet come to life. There is balance throughout the orchestra, and kudos to all the soloists, especially principal trumpet David Gordon for those charming but oh, so exposed, solos in the “The Blackamoor.”  I liked this Petrushka among my favorites of all time, including Giulini’s with Chicago and that of Dutoit. In fact, I think this new iteration surpasses Seattle’s 2012 recording with music director laureate Gerard Schwartz; which was already very fine.

For me, though, the real treat to this album is the inclusion of Debussy’s little played 1913 ballet “The Toy Box.” The plot bears a certain amount of similarity to Rossini’s “La boutique fantasque” (re-orchestrated by Respighi) in which toys come to life, including the three principal “action figures” – a clown, a doll and a soldier. Some toy battles, romances and a wedding ensue and the ballet closes with the toys back in the window of the toy store in their natural state. I am not sure why Debussy’s beautiful and charming score does not get played very often; except that – at over thirty minutes – it does depend heavily on an understanding of the story to fully appreciate the flow and – even in Debussy’s amazing output – it is not as idiomatic a score as some of his other more compact and beautiful works; such as La Mer or the three Nocturnes. Morlot’s interpretation of The Toy Box is finely interpreted and shimmering in places; making me want to see the original staging. The work does exist in Debussy’s own – and more popular – piano version; often played in separate little scenes. There is a recording of the orchestral version with the Lyon Philharmonic and Jun Markl but this Seattle one is the new definitive recording in my estimation.

This is a highly enjoyable recording on all levels and is probably one of the best classical releases of the year. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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