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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 - 1971)
Apollo ballet (1928) [25’12"]
Agon ballet (1957) [20’56"]
Orpheus ballet (1963) [28’31"]
London Symphony Orchestra/Robert Craft (Apollo and Orpheus)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s/Robert Craft (Agon)
rec. 1–4 July 1995 (Apollo); 3–5, 8 Jan 1995 (Orpheus), Abbey Road Studios; SUNY, Purchase, New York, 1992 (Agon). DDD
NAXOS 8.557502 [77.45]

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Naxos’s Stravinsky-Craft Collection continues. Recently we had the complete Firebird and now we have another in the series of Stravinsky recordings he made for other companies. Koch International originally released London Symphony recordings and Music Masters the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (not the London band).

When I first started listening to this disc I was made aware immediately that this was not a chamber orchestra version of the ballet. It was most refreshing to hear a large band of strings all playing superbly together instead of the more usual small chamber orchestra with all the attendant problems.

This for me would be sufficient reason for purchasing this disc were it not also for the fact that in Robert Craft, we have perhaps Stravinsky’s ideal interpreter. The richness of the recording also adds bloom to the somewhat smaller-sounding Orchestra of St. Luke’s so that the sound picture is pretty consistent, given the smaller body of strings.

By re-releasing other companies’ recordings, Naxos can mix and match as they wish to provide sensible planning and it is unusual to have these three ballets coupled together on the same disc. It appears to be one of the first, and is also very welcome for this reason; not to mention its comprehensive programme notes and low price. No-one can now have the excuse for not having these most romantic-sounding ballet scores in one’s collection.

Apollo: "In classical dancing I see the triumph of studied conception over vagueness, of the rule over the arbitrary, of order over the haphazard. ... I see in it the perfect expression of the Apollonian principle." (Stravinsky)

Stravinsky chose the subject of the ballet. The French original of the following scenario, adapted from the Homeric Hymn to the Delphic Apollo, is pasted at the head of the first page of his sketchbook:

Ilithiya arrives at Delos. Leto was with child and, feeling the moment of birth at hand, threw her arms about a palm tree and knelt on the soft grass. The earth smiled beneath her and the child sprang forth to the light. ... Two goddesses, Leto’s handmaidens, washed the child with pure, limpid water. For swaddling clothes they gave him a white veil of fine linen tissue, binding it with a golden girdle. Themis brought nectar and ambrosia.

Really this needs dancers to interpret rather than a sound-only recording. This should not deter you in the least from trying this recording.

When we reach Agon, the situation is even worse. This ballet was devised completely by the composer, and is plotless. Moreover, apart from differences in orchestration, the first and last movements are the same. The ballet consists of a further fourteen movements, none of which use the full orchestral resources.

Orpheus is somewhat better known and is based upon the well known story of our hero. The subject matter was chosen by Balanchine, and he and the composer worked together on the score and its choreography in 1947. The source material came from Book 10 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The ballet is written in three scenes and is particularly lyrical in the composer’s output.

Again, performances and recording quality are first rate, and this disc can be recommended very highly.

John Phillips

see also review by Tony Haywood


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