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Shadow Dances.
Tangoa. Suitesa - No. 1; No. 2. Concerto in Db. Concertinob. Octetb. Three Pieces for String Quarteta. Praeludiuma. Ragtimea. Duetc. Fanfare for a New Theatrec. Scherzo à la Russea.
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Producer Christian Gansch. Engineer Wolf-Dieter Katwatky. Date aApril 1996, bDecember 1995, cDecember 1996.
DG 453 458-2 (full price, 1 hour 7 minutes).
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For several years now the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has been seditiously demonstrating that a group of really fine, lively and imaginative instrumentalists can easily do without a conductor. Doubters (if there still are any) might object that the results will be efficient but characterless; again and again Orpheus proves them wrong. Its method is to choose a 'concert-master' (normally a violinist) for each work but otherwise to make democratic decisions about how a piece should go. There must be limits to the repertory that such a method can encompass, but with one possible exception those limits are not reached here. These are Stravinsky's miniatures, of course, but each has its own pungent, often witty character that needs distilling at maximum strength within a very brief space. The bright colours and brisk rhythms of the two Suites are vividly caught, but so is the fact that in each of these movements Stravinsky is trying on a fancy dress costume (a Parisian flâneur, a circus ringmaster) or sketching a sly caricature. The weird quirkiness of his scoring in the so-called 'orchestral' version of the Scherzo à la russe and the 1953 revision of the Tango needs to be emphasized, but who is more likely to notice - and enjoy - that oddity than the players themselves?

'Miniature', of course, does not mean 'minor'. The Concerto in D is a small classic of Stravinsky's balletic, neo-Tchaikovsky manner; the Three Pieces for string quartet are crucial documents of his discovery of a path forward from The Rite of Spring; while the Concertino, especially (as here) in its 1952 re-scoring, is a crossroads: the point at which paths from the Three Pieces (and The Soldier's Tale, and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments) meet and together point towards neo-Classicism and maybe beyond. All are given first-class performances in a most sympathetic, spacious acoustic. And the Octet is an exuberant masterpiece, of course; it is played with dapper good humour and intelligent insight (the Moderato variation in the slow movement a clear pre-echo of the Symphony of Psalms) but with slightly less incisive character than the other works here; because it's a wind piece and thus no string-player acted as concert-master? A richly enjoyable collection otherwise.


Michael Oliver


Michael Oliver

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