Pristine completes its survey of the acoustic Stravinsky legacy and simultaneously accords us access to a special sound world.
STRAVINSKY: Rarities (1916 – 1938) = The Firebird – Suite excerpts (1911); Petrushka – Complete Ballet; The Firebird – Suite (1919); 7 Pieces from Les cinq droits; Valse and Polka from Three Easy Pieces; Valse pour les enfants – fragment; The Rite of Spring – Part I (beginning); MOZART: Fugue in c minor, K. 426 – Beecham Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham/ Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/ Sir Eugene Goossens (Petrushka)/ Berlin State Opera Orchestra/ Oskar Fried (Firebird)/ The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski (Rite)/ Igor Stravinsky, piano/ Soulima Stravinsky, piano (Mozart) – Pristine Audio PASC 496, 78:13 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn assembles those remaining acoustic documents that fill out the Stravinsky legacy in its recording infancy, including some magical moments that the shellacs yield that prove refreshing and revelatory. To wit, the three 1916 excerpts from The Firebird that open the disc – with Sir Thomas Beecham’s leading his own ensemble – reveal a host of interior lines, especially in the woodwinds for the section Game of the Princesses with the Golden Apples, that literally sparkle with exuberant energy. And despite the inevitable tubby or bloated quality of some lower wind instruments – and the inability of the acoustic horn to do justice to high registers – the sheer motor vehemence of the Infernal Dance can become breathtaking.
The major work, the Petrushka Ballet in its entirety under Sir Eugene Goossens (rec. 1923-24), engages us, too, for its rhythmic and idiomatic phraseology, despite the sonic limits of the acoustic medium. Typical of Goossens, those manic aspects of the score, the repeated notes, ostinati, balanced percussion, and insertions of broad humor command his attention. The open passagework of the First Tableau, here in a reduced acoustic, anticipates the more austere sound world of the later The Soldier’s Tale. The battery and brass sections of Goossens’ forces seem subdued; but even here, the atmosphere assumes an exotic mystery that escapes from more advanced recording venues. The kaleidoscopic reveries of The Shrovetide Fair compel our interest, once more, by dint of the Goossens’ sympathy for its rhythmic, vibrant colors.
Oskar Fried’s 1925 six-movement suite from The Firebird remains within the restricted spectrum of the (late) acoustic process. Fried’s reading here, extremely brisk, carries an ominous energy in its opening pages, combined with expert tonal and agogic control that emerges beyond (my) expectation from acoustic records. The sense of serenity that Fried imposes on the Round Dance of the Princesses makes me wish he had been captured in the same electrical process of his later version. The Infernal Dance of all Kaschei’s Subjects – in spite of thin, nasal string sound – casts a wild spell upon us, pulsing with primal frenzy. Fried saves his more leisurely approach for the last two sections, the Berceuse and the Finale, where the exotic and the erotic find some common ground. The whistles and murmurs of the Berceuse segue, tremolo, into the French horn and harp colors, now rife with portamento, into a finely honed apotheosis, brass blazing.
The last of the orchestral contributions, from Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra, 1927, fully exploits the new electrical process, and the resultant Part I: Adoration of the Earth section of Le Sacre du Printemps makes a striking contrast to the cramped acoustic range in the prior selections. This primeval, ritual world assumes even greater eloquence in its earthy, visceral approach to color and rhythm. This performance is to Stravinsky interpretation what a Mengelberg reading is to Richard Strauss, absolutely required listening.
The remainder of the disc divides keyboard work by Igor Stravinsky into two distinct periods: his set of ten acoustic selections made in 1925 for Brunswick and a 1938 reading of a Mozart fugue for two pianos, with son Soulima Stravinsky. The latter, in good sound, captures that contrapuntal piece Mozart also set for stringed instruments as his K. 546, and literally defined Tchaikovsky’s notion of good counterpoint. The acoustic pieces – never previously released and saved by virtue of Stravinsky’s own taped test pressings – present Stravinsky in alternately lyric and chaste moments, sometimes in songful gestures that enjoy a French or Russian folk element. That Obert-Thorn and colleague Andrew Rose have been successful in raising these otherwise moribund (and injured) sounds allots us a miracle well beyond “archival completeness.” We feel privileged to enter the sacred space of the composer’s keyboard laboratory, where he busily engages the protean ingredients of his special art.