Suitesa - No. 1; No. 2. Concerto in
Octetb. Three Pieces for String
Duetc. Fanfare for a New
Theatrec. Scherzo à la
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Producer Christian Gansch. Engineer Wolf-Dieter Katwatky. Date
aApril 1996, bDecember 1995, cDecember
DG 453 458-2 (full
price, 1 hour 7 minutes).
Throughout his life, Stravinsky wrote short pieces for small orchestras and
for various groupings of instruments and this extensive collection of miniatures
illustrates his extensive range of styles used; they range from satirical
pieces written partly for his children (Suites for small orchestra), pieces
from his neo-classical period (e.g. Concertino) and pieces which were jazz
orientated (e.g. Ragtime). Throughout all these pieces runs Stravinsky's
obsession with rhythm and also his liking for the pungency of brass instruments.
This collection was given the name of Shadow Dances because whether in dance
form or not, notes, rhythms and intervals evoke movement. It is interesting
to note that in fact, only the 'Fanfare for a New Theatre' was written
specifically for a dance theatre.
This makes a fascinating collection as it illustrates so many aspects of
this multifaceted but always interesting composer. It should be noted however
that with a total of 12 pieces and 24 movements (all very concentrated),
this is not a record for sitting down and listening to complete as aural
fatigue sets in. This is very much a recording for dipping into to savour.
As with all recordings I have heard with this ensemble, the playing and recording
are immaculate. It would be invidious to pick out any particular player for
individual praise, but the woodwind gave me particular pleasure. As usual,
the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble plays without a conductor, although this is
never apparent by poor ensemble or rhythm. The Orchestra has been almost
universally praised and I sometimes wonder if I am the only person who feels
that good though it is, it would be truly excellent with a talented conductor.
For many of the pieces, recordings conducted by the composer are available
and it is interesting to compare these with the Orpheus versions. In most
cases, the Orpheus interpretations are marginally slower and there is no
doubt that Stravinsky gets a more pungent effect (which might also be affected
by the recordings, where DG engineers get a sweeter sound).
A comparison which I found especially interesting was in the Concerto in
D for string orchestra written in 1946 where I listened to a Stravinsky 1954
recording and a 1948 performance conducted by Sir John Barbirolli with the
Hallé Orchestra. The Stravinsky performance was just a few seconds
shorter than Orpheus and perhaps just slightly more rhythmically alive; the
Barbirolli however was considerably slower but some how made the work seem
more interesting and symphonic in nature. Another interesting comparison
was with Scherzo à la Russe where I compared the performance on this
disc with the LSO version under Antal Dorati (which I preferred) - in places
you would not think they were using the same score as the rhythmic differences
changed the actual tune; it would be interesting to be able to listen to
the original 1944 first performance by the Paul Whiteman band (which did
have a different scoring!).
Overall a fascinating collection of miniatures, well played and well recorded.
See also review by Michael Oliver