> Igor Stravinsky [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suites 1 and 2 (1), Ragtime (1), Octet (1), Danses Concertantes (2), Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (2), Concerto in D (2), rehearsal extract (3)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione Svizzera Italiana/Igor Stravinsky
Recorded live 28.4.1955 (1), 29.4.1954 (2), 27.4.1954 (3), Teatro Kursaal, Lugano, Switzerland
AURA AUR 164-2 [76í 58"]


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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.

Christopher Howell


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