Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suite d’après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambatista Pergolesi
Pastorale (1933) [2:42]
Airs du rossignol et Marche chinoise (1932) [7:50]
Duo Concertant (1931-2) [15:32]
Berceuse (1931-2) [2:48]
Prélude et Ronde des princesses (1926) [4:53]
Scherzo (1932) [2:41]
Chanson russe (1937) [3:18]
Divertimento (1934) [19:44]
Danse russe (1932) [2:32]
Tango (1940) [3:39]
Ballade (1947) [3:08]
Scherzino (1932) [1:30]
La Marseillaise (arr. 1919) [1:11]
Anthony Marwood (violin); Thomas Adès (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, 17-19 December 2008
HYPERION CDA 67723 [41:43 + 45:56]
Before anyone starts moaning, this is not in fact a 2 CD set of scandalously short duration. On the back of the case and under the transparency of the inlay is printed ‘2 compact discs for the price of one’, so in fact this is a highly generous 87:39 programme spread over two discs.
Stravinsky’s entire music for violin and piano is usefully brought together into one place here, and represents a significant portion of his early career. Stravinsky remained a performing musician for as long as his health allowed – almost his entire life in fact. As a conductor he toured widely and tirelessly, and the time spent giving concerts is one of the reasons he was less prolific as a composer than some of us might have preferred. We all have to make a living however, and during the 1930s Stravinsky teamed up with violinist Samuel Dushkin, writing some original music for the combination, but filling out their concert programmes with arrangements of some of his ‘best bits’. As is pointed out by Stephen Walsh in his excellent notes for this release, Stravinsky was never satisfied with straightforward transcription and following the easy path of giving the melody to the violin and the rest of the notes to the piano. Even pieces which you might know well as orchestral versions throw up some fascinatingly educational twists in their versions for violin and piano, showing how Stravinsky’s ear perceived his own material, at least for the moment at which he was making the arrangement. One frequently has the impression that a day, week, month later, the emphases, voicing of chords and distribution of material might have been put entirely differently.
Suite d’après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambatista Pergolesi was actually written with another violinist in mind, Paul Kochanski. The more compactly titled Suite italienne is a later version for Dushkin of pretty much the same music, but, having pointed out their differing styles for these two violinists, we are for some reason not given the latter version in this recording, giving something of a lie to the ‘complete’ title. The missing Scherzino from the later work is however given on disc 2. No matter, the essence of both works is presented in the Suite d’après des themes, and the refreshing melodic invention of Pulcinella are presented with sprightly playfulness by our guides on this recording. The same is true of the Pastorale, one of Stravinsky’s very early works and originally a vocalise for singer and piano. Here it becomes a jaunty camel-train, but still with the lovely melody elegantly phrased. The Nightingale is an early opera by Stravinsky which spawned the stunning orchestral piece Le Chant du Rossignol, and another remarkable showpiece for violin and piano in the Airs du rossignol et Marche chinoise. The impact of the second section, the Marche, shows plenty of the harder hitting idiom which Stravinsky adopted after producing The Rite of Spring, and there are plenty of resonances from that masterpiece which infuse this remarkable arrangement. Disc 1 ends with the Duo concertant which Stravinsky composed especially for his duo with Samuel Dushkin, and is in fact the only work he expressly wrote for violin and piano. His Violin Concerto was completed and given its premiere in 1931, and in some ways the Duo concertant was his way of being able to present a work of similar scale and weight without the need for a full orchestral backing. It is something of a shame that we don’t get the Violin Concerto here in its piano reduction, as it was one of the pieces the duo used in their repertoire before the completion of the Duo concertant, but with a very fine performance of the latter work there can’t be too many complaints. The lively and rhythmic Gigue suits these players down to the ground, and they extract plenty of poetry from the more lyrical movements, the final Dithyrambe ranging from tender song to a climax of operatic proportions.
Disc 2 consists almost entirely of arrangements from Stravinsky’s ‘hits’. The first three pieces all come from The Firebird, reminding us of how attractive many of the musical themes and ideas are in the original, but also from what a different style and idiom the music is derived. The triplets in the Prélude et Ronde des princesses come as something of a romantic shock after the firm grip of some of the later pieces we encountered on disc 1. There is plenty of bravura to be enjoyed in the Scherzo, in which Anthony Marwood has plenty of chance to show his effortless technical prowess. Stravinsky’s opera Mavra is one of his less well known pieces, through the charm and light bounce of the Chanson russe will make you wonder why.
The central work on this CD and of many of Stravinsky and Dushkin’s programmes is the substantial Divertimento, written around themes from the 1928 ballet The Fairy’s Kiss. The Divertimento appeared first as an orchestral suite, and the duo version is a fairly straight transcription of this suite. Another later version, the one which is recorded here, is the one Stravinsky made for violinist Jeanne Gautier. It has plenty of that Parisian élan which plucks and remodels elements from a variety of styles, ranging from a kind of quasi-jazz to some of the cooler and more lively elements in the contemporaneous Apollo. It is only when you hear something like the Pas de deux on the solo violin that you realise just how deliciously schmaltzy Stravinsky could be at times. The Danse russe is another technical showpiece, and a famous fragment from Petrushka. The Tango is one of Stravinsky’s few piano solo pieces, arranged by Dushkin in this case, and given plenty of smoky stylistic licence by Mr. Marwood. The programme is rounded off by Stravinsky’s contribution to Russia’s close relationship with France in La Marseillaise for solo violin, an arrangement which only received its first performance by Kyung-Wha Chung 60 years after it was made, in 1979.
Is there much competition for this release? Surprisingly not. Although the Pulchinella music is popular and there are other works widely recorded, they understandably tend to appear in programmes along with other composers. Violinist Dora Bratchkova has an all-Stravinsky recital on CPO, and Jasper Wood covers the larger works on the Endeavour label. Hyperion seems to have stolen a march on the rest with this ‘complete’ set, and the team of Anthony Marwood and Thomas Adès is hard to beat. Marwood is superb in all that difficult double-stopping, and Hyperion win in the perception stakes, with an excellent Stravinsky-a-like composer-pianist at the piano. Mention should be given to superb sound from engineer Simon Eadon, the recording made in the Wyastone concert hall which has consistently shown itself to be well suited to chamber music. The sound is crisp and lively, bringing out the rhythmic power of the music, but also revealing these musicians’ strength in all those extremes of expressive content. My only complaints are those of the obsessional completist. Given the space left on these discs it would have been nice to have the Violin Concerto in its piano & violin reduction, and the complete Suite italienne as a comparison to the Suite d’après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambatista Pergolesi, even if this might have been a case of over-egging, no doubt risking a push into double disc price category. As it stands, this is the current place to be when it comes to Stravinsky’s works for violin and piano.