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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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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.


Arthur Baker

See also review by Michael Oliver


Arthur Baker

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