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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suite Italienne (1933)
Duo Concertante (1932)
Divertimento (1934)
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

First Rhapsody (1928)
Second Rhapsody (1928)
Levon Ambartsumian (violin), Anatoly Sheludyakov (piano)
Rec 1995, Bolshoi Hall, Moscow Conservatory
PHOENIX PHCD 156 [73.33]

In terms of repertoire this is an interesting and useful compilation. None of these pieces is among its composer’s best known music, but each is representative of its composer’s genius.

To begin with Stravinsky, whose three pieces – the Suite Italienne, Duo Concertante and Divertimento – account for fifty of the seventy minutes of the recital. This music was composed during the early 1930s, intended for the composer’s performing collaboration with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, for whom he would also write the Violin Concerto.

The Suite Italienne is an attractive reworking of music from the neo-classical ballet Pulcinella that Stravinsky had composed more than ten years before. The idea of re-using material is hardly unique to Stravinsky. Here he brought freshness and vitality to bear on the new composition, which abounds in attractive tunes, most of them by the 18th century Neapolitan composer Pergolesi. The music suits the violin and piano combination particularly well, and there is nothing forced about the new context in which it resides. As for the performance, Ambartsumian and Sheludyakov make an effective combination, though the recorded sound tends to be dry in a way that is rather unflattering to the violin. This is emphasised by a tendency towards heaviness in the rhythms, though this may be more a matter of interpretation that technique. There is no question that the performance brings much pleasure and communicates strongly.

Stravinsky described the Duo Concertante as ‘a musical parallel of pastoral poetry’, and behind the music there lurks the influence of ancient Roman poetry. The style is rather different from the neo-classical vein of the Suite Italienne, and it suits these performers rather better. There is a well made balance of poetry and activity, and a real sense of teamwork too. Again the recording is somewhat lacking in atmosphere, but perfectly acceptable.

The Divertimento takes music from another existing ballet score, this time The Fairy’s Kiss, on themes deriving from Tchaikovsky. Ambartsumian captures the spirit of that master immediately with a refined singing phrase that he then intensifies with warm weight of tone. The two artists are particularly successful in this appealing music.

Bartók’s two Rhapsodies both date from 1928, and are therefore products of that master’s maturity. These performers seem particularly at home in this repertoire, and the first movement of the rhapsody No. 1 is perhaps the highlight of the whole CD. The recording seems more atmospheric in the Bartók than in the Stravinsky, but that may be simply a response to the vibrancy of the playing.

There are full notes in the booklet, though these tend to generalise rather than deal in detail with the music on offer.

Terry Barfoot

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