Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) The Firebird: Suite (1910) [22:36] Pulcinella: Suite (1922/4) [23:18]* Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3 (1908) [11:52]*
Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra (1925) [4:17]+
Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra (1921) [6:03]+
Orchestra, *New York Philharmonic, +Ensemble InterContemporain/Pierre
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, March 1967; *Manhattan Center,
New York, October-November 1975; +Paris, October 1980 SONY CLASSIC
LIBRARY SK94736 [68:32]
bald designation, "The Firebird Suite," on the front
cover is a bit disingenuous. Boulez offers not the familiar
suite of 1919 (original orchestration) or 1945 (reduced orchestration),
but Stravinsky's first attempted compilation from 1910, the
year of the ballet's premiere. This front-loaded selection
draws on music from the first two-thirds of the score, ending
inconclusively, if loudly, with the Infernal Dance - no Berceuse,
listeners may justifiably feel that this selection, like the
ballet as a whole, includes too much of the padding and not
enough of the "good stuff." And Boulez, at first,
seems intent on minimizing the score's post-Rimskyan opulence.
The Introduction's bass triplets are weighted and evenly
stressed, underlining their quiet menace; the motif does take
on a more sinuous contour when the upper strings pick it up
beginning at 1:55 (track 1). The little back-and-forth slurs
for pairs of reeds and muted trumpets at 0:44 are square -
partly because the final notes are sustained, rather than clipped
as in the 1945 revision - and the bassoon's repeated notes
at 2:44 plod.
even Boulez can't keep the surge out of the whirling scales
at 4:20, and from here on the music breathes more naturally,
with a sort of waltzy pointillism emerging at 5:08. The
Firebird's Entreaties initiates and sustains an air of
brooding mystery, despite the woodwinds' overly up-front presence,
a matter less of dynamics than of demeanour. The chattering,
undulating lightness of the Game with the Golden Apples is
more to the point, and I was surprised to hear the clarinets
foreshadowing the secondary motif of the Infernal Dance (track
3, 0:59). Those principal reeds - they have a lot to do! -
are clear and airy in the Princesses' Round Dance, where
the cantabile strings and horn belie Boulez's cold image.
Finally, the conductor shapes subsidiary lines in the Infernal
Dance so as to bring out the implied counterpoint, making
for an unusually active rendering. A strong realization, then,
ultimately rendered superfluous by Boulez's complete Firebird (Sony).
never heard a bad performance of the Pulcinella suite
- even the tonally unalluring accounts of the composer himself
(Sony) and of Ernest Ansermet (Decca) have their virtues -
and Boulez's is no exception. The conductor's ear for intonation
makes the chording of the opening Sinfonia fall into
place with unusual precision. The bright, chiffy flute ushering
in the Tarantella - marked by an infectious driving
impulse - and the bold, round solo trombone of the Duetto (Vivo)
bring their respective movements to life. The Gavotta and Minuetto embody
a simple, solemn dignity. Overall, however, the performance
is satisfactory rather than distinctive. Save in the oddly
square Toccata, the rhythms come across with a sort
of impersonal relish, if you'll pardon the oxymoron; and there
are occasional passing, but still surprising, ensemble lapses.
this program saves the best for last. We really should hear
the early Scherzo fantastique more often. Not only is
it a dazzling orchestral showpiece, but it represents Stravinsky-without-tears,
its sound more French than Russian or starkly "modern." The scherzando outer
sections, with their buoyant rhythms, long, arching lines,
and brilliant splashes of color, aren't far from the world
of Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice - but without the encumbering
image of Mickey Mouse! - framing a broadly lyrical center section
with more than a hint of early Debussy to it. Boulez's performance,
drawing the best in accuracy, balance, and alertness from the
New York Philharmonic, continues to serve as a touchstone after
some thirty years.
two Suites for Small Orchestra are real miniatures,
each cast in four movements, none of which last even two minutes.
The generally bright, cheerful mood and clean, colorful textures
represent Neo-classicism at its best; the quirky, appealing Valse of
the Second Suite - actually completed first; the headnote information
is correct, though it looks wrong - is particularly fetching.
recorded sound holds up consistently and well, the passage
of time and changes of venue notwithstanding. Pulcinella seemed
a bit drier to me than the rest, but I well may be reacting
to the performance itself rather than the engineering. At midprice,
recommended for the Scherzo and Suites.
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