> Stravinsky Compilation: Monteux, Reiner, Wand [AB]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petroushka and Rite of Spring (Boston S.O./Pierre Monteux) – recorded 1959, 1951. ADD
Song of the Nightingale and The Fairy’s Kiss (Chicago S.O./Fritz Reiner) – recorded 1956, 1958 ADD
Dumbarton Oaks (NDR SO/Günter Wand). – recorded 1984
BMG RCA 74321 846092 (2 CDs) [66.23+61.09]


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The idea is an excellent one: five of Stravinsky’s most popular pieces, in vintage (mainly 1950s) performances conducted by three of the 20th Century’s greatest conductors. Fortunately in this 2 CD set at medium price, the idea comes off well.

Pierre Monteux famously conducted the first performances of Petroushka and also of the Rite of Spring, where the police had to be called in to quell the near riot. Both the pieces were composed as ballets but are now usually considered just as orchestral showpieces. Having learnt these two works as stage events, Monteux brings a special authenticity to their performances (and Stravinsky has praised Monteux for his interpretations). Petrouchka is one of Stravinsky’s most approachable works with its melodic themes illustrating a fascinating story. It is surprisingly difficult to bring off in the concert hall or on disc. I believe that Monteux is unsurpassed in grasping the correct blend of drama, pathos and irony.

The Rite of Spring is a key work in 20th Century music and contains a degree of savagery and dissonance beyond which many people will not venture. Monteux’s performance is deeply rhythmic and interesting and is a useful alternative to the supercharged versions which are now routine. It is unfortunate that this recording (1951) is in mono as the Rite really cries out for stereo; not that the sound is poor on this newly mastered version.

The Nightingale has a Chinese feel and The Fairy’s Kiss is from Stravinsky’s neo-classical period being based on themes by Tchaikovsky. Both works, in the suites played here, are very attractive. Reiner was a superb conductor and brings out the tunes beautifully in a subtle rhythmic way which is a joy to listen to.

Günter Wand is not a conductor one normally associates with Stravinsky. Dumbarton Oaks is a kind of modern concerto grosso, using great economy of means and jazz-based rhythms which in the wrong hands can sound dull. Wand however is excellent and in this 1984 recording brings out a slightly sinister feel which is fascinating.

With the exception of Dumbarton Oaks, I had known and loved all these recordings from LP and there is no doubt that in new masterings by RCA-France sound better than ever. My only disappointment is that I have heard re-masterings of recordings from RCA-USA which have been almost miraculous – perhaps I expected too much here.

The presentation is interesting, with a triple fold glossy board enclosing thin plastic CD holders – a good design. The notes however are disappointingly short.

For me this double CD falls into the ‘must have’ category.

Arthur Baker

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