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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum (1960) [6’48]
Danses concertantes (1942) [19’26]
Concerto in D (1946) [12’38]
Apollon Musagète (1927) [29’00].
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester/Dennis Russell Davies.
Rec. Liederhalle, Stuttgart in October 2002. DDD
ECM NEW SERIES 472 1862 [68’35]


A very useful disc, in programming terms, of neo-classicist works mostly tied to the world of dance. It is good that the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra gives its best in this 2002 recording. Of the recording itself, some might find it a little close - particularly some of the detail in Danses Concertantes - and occasionally too well-upholstered.

The three Gesualdo madrigals are in masterly ‘arrangements’, shot through with the spirit of Stravinsky. The bitter-sweet twang of the first is most appealing, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra clearly enjoying the quirky, block-juxtapositional scoring. The second movement is exquisitely balanced in terms of orchestration, with agreeably bright trumpets and wind, to lead in to the dignified third movement.

The sprightly opening of the Danses concertantes could hardly be in greater contrast, but it is the buzzing trills of the second movement (‘Pas d’action’) that stay in the memory. Russell Davies makes this work into a fascinating experience. Following Stravinsky’s unpredictable twists and turns becomes a source of real delight, particularly in the central Theme and Variations. Try the lovely Stravinskian calm of the third variation or the light woodwind of the fourth and final variation. This is a version to vie with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra DG account (459 644-2, coupled with the magnificent Orpheus).

The Concerto in D has, Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich’s interesting notes tell us, itself been staged - as The Cage at the New York City Ballet in 1951. Russell Davies’ interpretation includes a characterful and alive first movement (with some nice solo contributions) and a buzzing finale that includes little trace of the scrappiness that can afflict this work. It is Apollon Musagète though that, of all the works on this disc, strikes this reviewer as a truly great and timeless piece of music. Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande on Decca has long held my affections (467 818-2, as part of a boxed set; ripe for reissue at a more affordable price, methinks). Russell Davies and his Stuttgarters are adept guides to this score without revealing it in all its magnificent glory. The solo violin work is a particular joy - one assumes from the personnel listing Benjamin Hudson to be responsible. However track 17 reveals the solo instrument as recorded far too closely. The slightly echoey acoustic takes some of the sense of play away (‘Variation de Polymnie’). Again in ‘Variation de Calliope’ the acoustic takes the attention away from the elusive, shifting phrases. The Coda (‘Apollo and the Muses’) is nicely comic, though.

There is much to enjoy here, but enough to frustrate - principally the recording - to take away a clear recommendation. ECM discs can appear in the shops at what I have been know to call ‘super-full price’ (i.e. even more than full price Universal), which seems a little steep for the present disc.

Colin Clarke

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