STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella; Symphony In Three Movements; Four Etudes – Roxana Constantinescu, mezzo/Nicholas Phan, tenor/ Kyle Ketelsen, bass-baritone/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Pierre Boulez – CSO-Resound multichannel SACD CSOR 901 920, 71:12 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Nice to see the CSO-Resound series of discs in SACD, for a bit there it looked like they were giving up on SACD. This is not the usual Pucinella Suite, but the original version with three vocal soloists singing various love songs in Italian. There are complete translations in the note booklet – thank you. Pulcinella was credited for many decades as Stravinsky’s reimagining the music of Pergolesi, but only recently did musicologists discover that the Baroque melodies Stravinsky adopted were not by Pergolesi, but by the much-less-well-known Italian composer Carlos Ignazio Monza. (That’s not even mentioned in the note booklet.)
These are the perfect Stravinsky works to benefit from Pierre Boulez’ baton, being as how they are from the strongly neoclassic, very dry and precise period of the composer, and that is the usual conducting style of Boulez. Aside from the nice melodies I had not paid much attention to earlier recordings of Pulcinella in the instrumental suite form, but this version is a complete delight in every way. I especially liked the couple of short contributions by bass-baritone Ketelsen. Boulez in his included interview compares the original musical themes to being like an old monument that you paint over in vivid colors so you don’t see the history so much, just the colors.
The Four Etudes were composed shortly after Stravinsky’s big success de scandal with The Rite of Spring. They continue more in their vein than in the neo-classical. The Symphony in Three Movements was a 1946 commission from The New York Philharmonic. The composer called it his “war symphony” – the first movement inspired by a documentary on Japanese scorched earth tactics in China and the last movement dealing with goosestepping German soldiers and the success of the allies. Part of an abandoned piano concerto is worked into the opening movement. The work is much more chromatic and even sharply atonal than his earlier Symphony in C, but also more neoclassical. Its startling finish with a big Hollywood-style chord is one of my personal favorites moments in all of Stravinsky, but the entire work held together and had much more developmental interest for me than any other recorded performance of it I have previously heard.
– John Sunier