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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra (1923-24, rev. 1950) [18:36]
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1928-29, rec. 1949) [16:59]
Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1958-59) [9:10]
Pétrouchka (1910-11, rev. 1946) [34:16]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier
rec. Sala São Paulo, Júlio Prestes Cultural Center, São Paulo, Brazil; 2-5 and 7 May 2014
(Concerto, Pétrouchka) and 8-12 May 2014 (other works)
CHANDOS CHSA5147 SACD [79:40]

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has already won golden opinions for his performances on Chandos of twentieth-century piano concertos: Bartók Piano Concertos 1-3 (CHAN10610 – review and October 2010 DL Roundup), Ravel Piano Concertos 1 and 2, Debussy Fantaisie and Massenet (CHSA5084/CHAN5084: Download of the Month, January 2011 DL Roundup) and Prokofiev Piano Concertos 1-5 (CHAN10802 – review and DL News 2014/1).

Chandos already had some fine recordings of the Concerto for piano and wind (Boris Berman) and Capriccio (Geoffrey Tozer) in a super-budget 5-CD collection with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Neeme Järvi (The Essential Stravinsky CHAN6654). The obvious comparison for this new recording comes from Hyperion: Steven Osborne and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Ilan Volkov on CDA67870, containing the Concerto for Piano and Wind, Capriccio and Movements, as on the new Chandos, but coupled more logically with the Concerto in D and two shorter works.  Leslie Wright thought that ‘the best collection yet of Stravinsky’s music for piano and orchestra, and with added bonuses’ and made it a Recording of the Month – review.  Geoffrey Molyneux, in Download News 2013/12 was equally full of praise.  I reviewed the download in an earlier edition – here.

I’ve also been listening to a vintage recording from 1953 which won a rosette in the Penguin Guide: Mewton-Wood plays Twentieth Century Piano Concertos on which Noel Mewton-Wood performs concerts by Bliss (with Utrecht SO), Shostakovich (No.1 with Concert Hall SO) and Stravinsky (Piano and Wind, with the Hague Residentie Orchestra) all conducted by Walter Goehr (British Music Society BMS101CDH – download from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless, no booklet, or stream from Naxos Music Library).  Rob Barnett especially recommended the Bliss but also appreciated the Shostakovich and Stravinsky – review – and John Quinn and the late Paul Shoemaker enjoyed various aspects of this release, with the latter naming this as the finest recording the Stravinsky ever received – review.

That’s pretty formidable competition for the new recording, then, not to mention the many very fine versions of Petrushka: I’m going to refer to it by that name rather than Pétrouchka, as preferred by Chandos. Stravinsky’s own performance is now imprisoned in a 7-CD box which contains both the complete ballet and the suite (Sony 88697884142).  Equally good value but less bulky are the 4-CD and 2-CD incarnations of Simon Rattle’s recording with the CBSO and Peter Donohoe (EMI/Warner 2427542: Bargain of the Month – review and 9677112 – review).

From all the alternatives I’ve chosen Mewton-Wood as my benchmark for the Concerto, with Stephen Bishop, as he was then known, somewhere in the back of my mind on a long-deleted Philips recording.  Bavouzet and Tortelier give it a jaunty performance, with plenty of power where it’s needed, as at the end of the first movement.  The second movement is suitably evocative, the third reminiscent of Histoire du Soldat and there’s good support throughout from the São Paulo orchestra. 

This is Tortelier’s second recording with the orchestra – the first was a highly-regarded recording of Florent Schmitt (CHSA5147 – review and DL Roundup: it’s not the conductor’s fault that I didn’t like the noisy Psalm 47). It's Bavouzet’s first as far as I’m aware but the combination works very well.  In all three movements the new performance is a shade faster than the Mewton-Wood – significantly so in the second movement – but the chosen tempi work well and the recording is vastly superior to 1953 mono.

In Capriccio Bavouzet and Tortelier are mere seconds faster in the first two movements than Osborne and Volkov and slightly slower in the finale but there’s very little to choose between them overall in terms of performance and recording.  Both are available in 24-bit sound as downloads, which is the version to which I listened, though only the Chandos is available as an SACD, a format which Hyperion have abandoned.

I have to confess that Movements is one Stravinsky work that I haven’t come to terms with: I’m no fan of serialism in any form, so I can only report that Bavouzet and Osborne take very similar views of the work and, in any case, it’s short.  In the three works common to both recordings you could hardly go wrong with either the Chandos or the Hyperion and both come with booklets of a quality that we have come to expect from both labels.

Choice, then, will depend on whether you prefer as coupling Petrushka, here presented in what Chandos call the 1946 revision – more usually referred to as the 1947 version – or the Concerto in D on Hyperion.  Simon Rattle is generally regarded as top dog in this version of Petrushka and his recording comes inexpensively on either the 4-CD or the 2-CD set (see above) but my own preference is for the 1911 original, as presented by Andrew Litton (BIS-SACD-1474: Recording of the Month – review).  The splendid 3-CD Kreizberg set of Firebird, Rite of Spring and Petrushka (1947 version) which I made Recording of the Month (OPMC001 – review) seems to have disappeared already.

It’s not difficult to produce a very decent recording of this work – there’s usually at least one in Radio 3’s afternoon schedule each week – but few really outstanding ones.  Tortelier comes very close to the outstanding category.  His performance takes a little time to gel but really grabbed my attention from the start of Part Four, track 18 onwards, and the 24-bit recording quality outshines anything you’re likely to hear on Radio 3, in FM or DAB.  I greatly regret the deletion of the Kreizberg – snap it up if you can find a copy or download from amazon.co.uk – but this makes a very good replacement.

If the Chandos coupling appeals, you should buy with confidence.  The Hyperion collection of all the works for piano and orchestra is more logical but, with the prominent piano part in Petrushka, very ably performed by Bavouzet here, the new recording has its own logic too.  Performance, recording and presentation of both are first-class.

Brian Wilson