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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrouchka (1947 version)
Scherzo à la Russe (1945 version)
Firebird Suite (1919 version)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 24-25 March 2002
TELARC CD 80587 [59:42]


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This is a really superb issue - a top-class recording of an outstanding interpretation and performance. Oddly enough, there aren’t that many modern versions of Petrouchka in the catalogue, though both Colin Davis and Claudio Abbado have produced memorable readings in fairly recent times.

Järvi paces the music so well, which not only lets the momentum of the drama build inexorably, but also allows all the delicious details of the scoring to be heard so clearly. The opening crowd scene bustles with life and activity, while the Russian Dance, though not particularly quick, has tremendous rhythmic drive, as well as just the right mechanical feel for the sudden coming to life of the puppets. When we move ‘indoors’ for the brooding music of the Blackamoor, Järvi characterises the music powerfully, the dangerously capricious atmosphere brilliantly captured. Järvi here is as vivid as Ansermet in his famous 1950 version.

The only slightly contentious touch comes near the very end, where Järvi and his engineers choose to place the pair of muted trumpets - which describe the manic gesturing of Petrouchka’s ghost – ‘off-stage’. This heightens both the pictorial quality of the music and its grotesque pathos. I felt it was a justifiable use of a simple piece of recording technology, though I’m aware there may be some listeners who’ll object.

The Firebird Suite comes over equally well. Once again, Järvi doesn’t go for mere sensationalism, allowing the music to generate excitement organically. No punches are pulled, though, and the Infernal Dance of King Kastchei is as thrilling as I’ve ever heard it. Beautifully played bassoon and horn solos lead through to an exultant and musically satisfying finale. The Cincinnati Symphony is now undoubtedly, on this showing, a truly world-class body, with richly supple strings, expressive, characterful woodwind soloists and brilliant, well-balanced brass.

The filler is the genial Scherzo à la Russe, (a curious little companion piece to the great Symphony in Three Movements). I must mention the cover photo, which shows Stravinsky and Nijinsky side by side, the former in concert tails, the latter in his Petrouchka costume. They survey the camera like an oddly gawky pair of twins.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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