A comparison between the opening Andante of Suite no.
1 in this performance and the well-known CBS recording from the 1960s
is fascinating. The obsessive accompanying clarinet motive is only faintly
audible here, but the strings sing their melody with an almost Mediterranean
warmth and the music takes on a gentle lilt beside which the studio
version seems relatively clinical. And itís the same story in every
movement of the two Suites; as realisations of the scores the studio
recordings win at various points, but the live versions are so much
more communicative. They make you want to smile or to dance with the
music; the studio ones donít. Itís the same with Ragtime. The studio
recording has a cimbalom, as prescribed, while in Lugano they make do
with a piano. But what a delightfully smoochy piano-bar player he is,
and at a slightly faster tempo the whole thing has a lift not achieved
in the studio. A friendly performance of the Octet concludes the pieces
from the 1955 programme and it sounds as if, for once, Stravinsky is
actually enjoying conducting his own music.
Almost exactly a year before you get the idea a wasp
had stung him just before he went on to conduct the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto.
The exceptionally brisk and dry studio recording of this work has always
drawn bemused comment of the kind "Oh well, evidently thatís how
he wanted it to sound". Here he shaves another minute off it, but
I must say I prefer this. It sounds urgent, as if he had to do
it that way, while in the studio he seemed to want to give someone a
lesson. We know, from other sources, composer-conducted recordings in
which the composer bulldozes through his music with reckless regard
for its beauties and scant consideration for the orchestra, often to
magnificent effect. But I had not associated Stravinsky with composer-conducted
performances of this kind.
Danses Concertantes gets a joyful, lilting and less
pressurised performance and the wasp sting had evidently subsided by
the time of the Concerto in D which has elegance and wit as well as
energy. The programme opens with a brief scrap from one of the rehearsals
(just 1í 30"), mounted as a trailer to the broadcast concert. We
hear Stravinsky picking up the orchestra (in French) over some dynamics,
then the announcer comments (in Italian) that if Stravinsky can be exacting
he can also be kind in his praise of the orchestra; and in fact he concludes
by telling them in benign tones it is "très, très
bien"; "if you play so well at the concert Ö" (the conclusion
is lost to the microphones or to my French). To tell the truth they
are not as accurate as the American ensembles with which he recorded
over the following decade, but they evidently enjoyed his music and
he must have appreciated that.
Donít be put off by the scratchy sound of the rehearsal
extract. The recordings that follow are remarkably good for their age;
there are occasional hints of overloading but they are as good as any
studio recordings of the same date are likely to be.
I must say I loved this. I donít want to knock the
studio recordings, which are very important, but here in public Stravinsky
is just enjoying communicating his music; if you want a disc with which
to relate to him as a human being, this is it.