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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-24, rev. 1950) [18:36]
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1928-29, rev. 1949) [16:59]
Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1958-59) [9:19]
Pétrouchka (1910-11, rev. 1946) [34:16]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier
rec. 2014, Sala São Paulo Júlio Prestes Cultural Center, São Paulo, Brazil

A couple years ago I reviewed a Hyperion CD with pianist Steven Osborne and the BBC Scottish Symphony/Ilan Volkov, containing the “complete music for piano and orchestra” of Stravinsky. I was so impressed by it that it earned a “Recording of the Month” in my estimation. Brian Wilson in his review of this new disc referred to my earlier review and recommended the present recording if the combination of works suit. The main difference here is that the SACD contains Pétrouchka, which is by rights also for piano and orchestra, though one does not usually think of it that way. To fill out the earlier disc, Volkov included three pieces without piano. Not only for the sake of completeness, but also value for money, this SACD has almost 20 minutes more of music. On the other hand, most listeners will already have one or more recordings of Pétrouchka in their library, whereas the Volkov CD included such rarely heard miniatures as Song of the Volga Boatman for wind and percussion and Canon on a Russian Popular Tune, in addition to the more commonly recorded Concerto in D.

All that being said, this SACD has a great deal to offer both in terms of the performances and the recorded sound. I would be hard put to choose one recording over the other and am happy to have both in my collection. In the Concerto both Osborne/Volkov and Bavouzet/Tortelier are superior to the rather studied account by Paul Crossley and the London Sinfonietta under Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony). Bavouzet and Tortelier seem to be having the most fun with the piece and are very incisive, helped no doubt by the vibrant and clear sound of the recording. The playing of the São Paulo Symphony continues to impress, as it did in Marin Alsop’s Prokofiev recordings for Naxos. Like Osborne/Volkov, Bavouzet/Tortelier conclude the work with a flourish at a faster tempo than what has gone before. In the other recordings with which I am familiar, the tempo of the last bars is not sped up, but it is very effective this way.

Again in the Capriccio both Bavouzet and Osborne are superb, light and breezy. Bavouzet/Tortelier are especially witty in the Più mosso section of the central movement. While Crossley captures the Poulencian humor of the finale well, his account is a somewhat more weighty and the sound is more blended, less clear. All the same, he has the measure of this delightful work. I still prefer Bavouzet and Osborne, though, in the energy in which they invest this piece. Osborne takes a slightly faster tempo in the third movement, but Tortelier’s orchestra seems to be enjoying their part even more. São Paulo’s woodwind solos are particularly noteworthy.

What can one say about Movements? I have never really come to terms with Stravinsky’s serial works with the exception of Agon and Requiem Canticles, both of which I like a great deal. Movements is short and colorful enough to sustain interest. Bavouzet plays it is as well as the others I’ve heard, including Osborne, Crossley, and Charles Rosen.

Pétrouchka could be the determining factor for those who want all of Stravinsky’s orchestral works with piano on a single disc. Tortelier chose the revised 1946 version that the composer, as well as many other conductors, preferred over the more opulent 1911 original. Tortelier’s account is very dynamic, even spiky. At times it is downright brutal, something David Zinman could have emulated in his recent recordings of Le Sacre du printemps for RCA. Even though I found a lot to like in this pared down Pétrouchka, I prefer the fuller original as performed by Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphony (RCA). Riccardo Chailly with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra also perform the revised version on their Decca set of ballets, but they find more warmth in the music than Tortelier does here. One thing that stands out in this new account, however, is the piano part. I have never heard it played as clearly as it is here. It does not really sound like the piano was miked more closely than usual, but that might explain why it is so noticeable. At any rate, Bavouzet is almost primus inter pares in this work. The recording, as in the rest of the programme, is outstanding in its brilliance and clarity.

Chandos completes this first-class production with excellent notes by David Nice and some black and white photographs. This is well worth getting if you want this particular programme. For those who already have the Osborne CD and aren’t in the market for another Pétrouchka, you can rest assured that it is fully equal to this new one for the works with piano.

Leslie Wright

Previous reviews: Brian Wilson & Dominy Clements



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