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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrushka, ballet suite (1911) [23:05]
Pulcinella, ballet suite (1920) [11:00]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons: ballet in one act, Op.67 (1900) [34:55]
unnamed orchestra (Petrushka), Walther Straram Concerts Orchestra (Pulcinella)/Igor Stravinsky
unnamed orchestra/Alexander Glazunov
rec. 1928 (Petrushka), 1929 (Glazunov), 1928 and 1932 (Pulcinella)

There’s long been a profitable line in marques such as 'The Composer Conducts'. Sometimes the results can be prone to stiffness, insecurity or self-conscious directness, whilst elsewhere – though generally faster than their competitors, the professional conductors – composer-executants can bring a sense of flair and spontaneity to proceedings.

The two examples here are both Russian with Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Pulcinella suites and Glazunov’s The Seasons sharing disc space. Because of his many subsequent recordings and his longevity Stravinsky’s aptitude for studio direction is well known and even these earlier 1928-32 recordings have remained important documents in his large discography. This, however, was Glazunov’s only recording.

It was recorded in London’s Portman Rooms over three days in June 1929, Glazunov directing a pick-up band called the Symphony Orchestra, though this would presumably have included a cadre from the LSO. Columbia producer Joe Batten left behind a wonderful description of Glazunov in his memoirs on which Mark Obert-Thorn draws pertinently in the brief one-page note which forms the booklet of this release. Batten recalled Glazunov producing a performance of ‘sheer beauty’. Indeed he draws from the principals especially characterful and distinctive phrasing – it would be very interesting to find out, even at this great distance in time, the names of the principal clarinet, flute and the harpist in particular. There’s tremendous vitality in the Waltz of the Cornflowers and Poppies, along with a buoyant sense of rhythm even though it slows toward the end of the side. The Barcarolle is recorded over two sides and is a total delight; fluency itself and once again with a very characterful contribution by the clarinettist. The original recording, as Obert-Thorn notes, was prone to a sound that favoured either the bass or the treble but it’s still entirely listenable.

Petrushka was also recorded in London, but a year earlier, and without the location being acknowledged in the notes – possibly no one is sure quite where. Again this is a ‘Symphony Orchestra’ – so again it could be a rump of the LSO, though the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society was doing some recording work with Weingartner at the same time. The piano is well balanced in the Russian Dance and whilst the strings are not always quite together there’s plenty of spirit to be heard throughout. Petrushka incidentally was Stravinsky’s first published commercial recording and it is heard as a suite over six 78rpm sides – despite the ballet having already been recorded complete twice by Albert Coates and Eugene Goossens. Pulcinella was a strange affair. Part of it was recorded in Paris in November 1928, the results being released on a single 78, and Stravinsky later returned to the Walther Straram Concerts Orchestra to set down two further movements in May 1932. Two venues were used. The 1932 sides are definably more open but the earlier ones are, surprisingly perhaps, more ‘present’.

The transfers are very accomplished indeed. This Composer Conducts disc is a strong entrant.

Jonathan Woolf



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