IGOR STRAVINSKY: The Firebird; Symphony in C; The Wedding; L’Histoire du Soldat; Three Pieces for String Quartet; Concertino for String Quartet; Three Songs of Shakespeare – Czech Philharmonic Orch./Christoph Von Dohnányi & Václav Neumann, cond./var. ensembles and vocal soloists – Praga Digitals stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350 057 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi), TT: 145:19 (2 CDs) ****:
This very good two disc set, of historic stereo recordings made 1970-1987, makes a nice addition to an existing collection of Stravinsky masterworks or for a very nice first recording of The Firebird.
The biggest work here, and certainly the best known, is The Firebird. In this case; the whole ballet. There are many stellar performances of this wonderful score one can go obtain. Personally, I really like the Dutoit with Montreal and the Markevitch with London. But, the present performance by the Czech Philharmonic with Von Dohnányi is quite good. Pacing is good; never rushed nor dragged. The famous “Infernal Dance” is very exciting.
Similarly, the Symphony in C; here conducted by Neumann, is well-played also. For many years, the only recording I had was the Stravinsky one on the Columbia re-issue. I must say this very classical-inspired work gets a very nice reading here. Neumann gives the work some punch and offers an energetic interpretation.
This collection is, in many ways, a bit eclectic. Aside from these two fine performances by the Czech Philharmonic, the lesser known string quartets are well played by the Tokyo String Quartet and offer a somewhat obscure treat. “A Soldier’s Tale” (L’Histoire du Soldat) is given a very nice read by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players which emphasizes some of the sardonic nature of the score.
The vocal performances are also quite convincing and come from the forces of the Prague Radio Choir in Les Noces (The Wedding). This is a beautiful score that Stravinsky himself subtitled “choreographed Russian scenes” and soloists and choristers convey the somewhat ribald text in fine fashion.
For me, the real “oddity” was the Three Shakespeare Songs, sung here by Milana Boublikova and members of Musica Viva Pragensis. This work is unusual in that it is one the earliest and – ultimately – only of Stravinsky’s works that uses serial construction. I would have liked to have the texts included in the booklet notes, as those to Les Noces are.
All the performances as well as the sound quality to this collection are quite good. A couple of the best known big works is included here and fare quite well. Certainly, the smaller and lesser known works are good to have in one’s collection. As I mentioned, this is an eclectic collection from the standpoint of repertory. There isn’t a real strong thematic connection between all these works; aside from the sampling of Stravinsky’s incredible output and the many styles represented. It is also “eclectic” I think from a marketing point of view. The Czech Philharmonic is a world class ensemble. Just the first disc issued separately or perhaps The Firebird and Petrouchka would be great. Similarly, the work of the Prague Radio Symphony or the other ensembles represented would make for a good, unified product.
Maybe this is just nit-picking. On many levels, this collection is still worth exploring.
Mack Avenue Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a Christian McBride duet album.