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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Pulcinella (1919-20)
Le Chant du Rossignol (1920)
Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (tenor), Simon Estes (bass)
Ensemble Intercontemporain
Patrice Fontanarosa (violin); Patrick Gallois (flute); Bertrand Grenat (oboe);
Yves Couëffe (trumpet)
Orchestre National de France/Pierre Boulez
reissue – recorded in IRCAM, Paris in December 1980
WARNER APEX 2564 62088-2 [60:51]

Boulez’s Stravinsky readings have polish and elegance, drawing phrasing of brilliance and beauty. The story of Diaghilev’s one-act, eight-scene ballet, relates the amorous adventures of the Commedia dell’arte character, Pulcinella. Stravinsky’s music is neo-classical in idiom and based on themes by Pergolesi (1710-1736). Pulcinella is a happy fusion of the art of both composers. Stravinsky "recomposed" Pergolesi’s harmonies and arranged them for a chamber orchestra according to the 18th century spirit. The score also includes music for three solo voices.

Personally I thought the Overture rather stolid, too studied. I was concerned that I would miss the spontaneity, the essential joie de vivre of other performances. But I need not have worried for Boulez makes the suite really sparkle. All three soloists enter into the comic spirit of the ballet, colouring their voices uninhibitedly and enjoying the broad humour immensely.

Stravinsky’s ballet Le Chant Rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale) after Andersen’s tale The Emperor of China’s Nightingale, was first performed in February 1920 with only limited success. Originally, its music was intended as an opera on which Stravinsky worked in 1909 but progress was interrupted by ballet commissions. In the end the composer transformed the music into a symphonic poem, voices transferred to instruments, and it was this transformation that Diaghilev used. The three sections are: a very oriental ‘Chinese March’, evocative flutterings of the real nightingale outraged by its mechanical equivalent in ‘The Song of the Nightingale’ and the colourful ‘Antics of the mechanical nightingale’. Another presence is the melancholy surrounding the dying emperor before the real nightingale returns to beguile. The score harks back to the vivid colouring and exciting dissonances of The Firebird but with something of neo-classicism too. Boulez’s impressive reading excites and enchants.

A welcome reissue of polished, exciting readings of two Stravinsky favourites.

Ian Lace

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