Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971)
Pulcinella Concert Suite [24:51]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite [37:41]
NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Jacek Kaspszyk
rec. Witold Lutoslawki Concert Hall, Wroclaw 16-17 June 2008
DUX 0764 [62:34]

Whilst the parallels between them are obvious – they were written only a few years apart, are both for small orchestra and are both partly based on earlier music – the differences are much more striking. Pulcinella, drawn from a ballet with vocal sections, is based on music by Pergolesi and his contemporaries, using that music as a kind of springboard towards the kind of sound-world that Stravinsky was to inhabit for much of his middle years. Similarly Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, drawn from the incidental score to Molière’s play, makes some use of Lully’s music for the same play to produce the very different kind of sound-world that Strauss was to inhabit in his much later works. Nonetheless both are intensely lovable and full of very characterful music. They form an interesting pair but do require the performers to be very aware of the very different character and requirements of the two works.

To some extent this is achieved here, with precise and well disciplined playing from the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, and the forward, clear, sound allows the listener to get right inside the music. However comparisons with earlier recordings, of which there are many, suggest what sounds like a lack of total conviction in the characterisation of both works compared with the best of earlier accounts. The composer and Abbado, for instance, make much more of the spikiness and pungency of the Stravinsky, and Reiner and Kempe of the Strauss. Here the latter is certainly beautifully played but a certain coolness does tend to reduce the impact of the music. Even a restrained movement like the Intermezzo before the last Act would benefit from more positive phrasing, and whilst the movement depicting the Fencing Master certainly has vigour, it lacks that ultimate degree of swagger that brings the music fully to life.

Similarly with Pulcinella, although here the relative coolness is not such a problem, and might indeed even be seen as a virtue. Overall this is an interesting and imaginative coupling, well played and recorded. It might well fill a gap in your collection and bring much pleasure, but be aware that neither performance really matches the best of earlier versions although as far as I am aware they are not available in this coupling.

John Sheppard