The cover photo of Stravinsky’s impish grin is a perfect advertisement for this collection of three neoclassical pieces, plus a serial-period “fourth deal”–the album title is a reference to the Jeu de Cartes (Card Game), a “ballet in three deals.”
STRAVINSKY: Igor Stravinsky in Four Deals – Violin Concerto in D Major/David Oistrakh, Violin/Concerts Lamoureux/Bernard Haitink; Pulcinella, ballet suite/ The Philharmonia, London/Otto Klemperer; Jeu de Cartes (The Card Game)/Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Igor Stravinsky; Movements for Piano and Orchestra/Margrit Weber, Piano/Radio Symphonie Orchester, Berlin/Ferenc Fricsay – Praga Digitalis 250 329 78:37 (8/12/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****1/2:
The Violin Concerto in D was written in 1931 as a commission for Polish violinist Samuel Dushkin. Stravinsky did not feel that he was familiar enough with the instrument, but Dushkin reassured him that he would consult on technical matters, and Paul Hindemith encouraged him to take on the project, suggesting that Stravinsky’s unfamiliarity with the time-worn tropes of virtuoso violin writing would probably yield a more original result. He was right; the concerto, while not a soloist’s showpiece in the traditional sense, is a sensory delight with the intimacy of chamber music, every phrase etched with Stravinsky’s filigree wit. David Oistrakh’s characteristic intelligence and razor-sharp technique is an ideal fit; Bernard Haitink coaxes a transparent tapestry of sound from the Concerts Lamoureux.
Otto Klemperer’s sense of pageantry joins the Philharmonia for a first-rate Pulcinella in a performance that tells each of the score’s jokes with a perfectly straight face, in the deadpan manner of the best comedians. Section principals in woodwinds and brass have opportunities to shine in this delicious ballet score based on 18th-century commedia dell’arte originally set to music by Pergolesi, and reimagined by Stravinsky. This piece was the turning point for the beginning of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period; fans of The Rake’s Progress will recognize familiar motifs and gestures. The version performed here is the “final” 1972 version (the original score premiered in 1920).
Stravinksy himself takes up the baton for the ballet Jeu de Cartes; the recording quality takes a downturn in this piece, which blurs the superb work of the Bayerischehn Sinfonieorchester, but this is more than compensated for by the composer’s reading of his own score. The main character, the “unbeatable” Joker, is delineated with a devilish brio which foreshadows both storyline and musical themes that would come in the card game and character of Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress.
The fourth hand played on this album is the brief but eloquent Movements for Piano and Orchestra, in which Margrit Weber pairs with Ferenc Fricsay and the Berlin Radio Symphonie Orchestra for an attenuated deconstruction performed with exceptional sensitivity. Stravinsky’s genius comes through clearly in the textural and timbral crossovers between piano and orchestra, which create a spectral sense of confused identity.
This album is a delight from first note to last—highly recommended.