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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L’histoire du soldat – suite (1918) [24:50]
Violin Concerto in D (1931) [20:05]
Jeu de cartes (1935-36) [21:25]
Concerto in E flat major, 'Dumbarton Oaks' (1938) [13:33]
Marcel Darrieux (violin); Emil Godeau (clarinet); Gustave Dhérin (bassoon); Eugène Foveau (cornet); Raphaël Delbos (trombone); Alphonse-Joseph Delmas (double bass); Jean-Paul Morel (percussion)/Igor Stravinsky (Soldat)
Samuel Dushkin (violin)/Lamoureux Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky (violin concerto)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky (Jeu)
Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky (Dumbarton)
rec. 6-7 May 1932 in the Studio Albert, Paris (Soldat), 28-29 October 1935, Polydor Studio No. 2, Paris (violin), 19 & 21 February 1938, Singakademie, Berlin (Jeu), 28 May 1947, Reeves Beaux Arts Studios, New York City (Dumbarton)

Four ensembles, one conductor. But whilst the ‘Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky’ rubric has been a familiar one for many years – collectors will have snapped up the mountainous boxed set containing the LP recordings transferred to silver disc – the quartet of performances here is not as ubiquitous.

The suite from The Soldier’s Tale was recorded for Columbia over two days in May 1932 in Paris. The ensemble was, as Mark Obert-Thorn’s brief but customarily to-the-point Producer’s Note reminds the listener, also active in recording the Octet at the same time. The instrumentalists represent a great generation of musicians with highly individualistic timbres, characteristic of their respective French schools. The almost prototypically boxy and dry Studio Albert also shouts ‘1930s Paris’, its chilly and decidedly resinous aural implications meaning that violinist Marcel Darrieux, who was quite a busy recording artist at the time, sounds especially crisp and unwarmed. Similarly, Emil Godeau’s largely vibrato-free blanched clarinet offers a rather ascetic take on the music, though Eugène Foveau’s cornet and the trombone of Raphaël Delbos offer more robust tonal pleasure. With little room for Jean-Paul Morel’s percussion to expand in the cramped acoustic, this feature is also rather abrasive. However, despite (or perhaps because of) these disparate elements the suite has surely seldom sounded as crisply incisive or as personalised.

The Violin Concerto is a much better-known recording, and features the dedicatee, Samuel Dushkin, with whom Stravinsky had earlier recorded the Duo Concertant and other smaller works. This French Polydor recording of October 1935 saw the composer conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra in a studio, pretty much as dry as the Studio Albert. Its clarity does, however, allow the more subterranean elements of the scoring to come over well, whilst Dushkin’s acerbic, somewhat percussive playing gets to the heart of things in its incisive way.

But it’s a relief to switch to the Singakemie, Berlin for Jeu de cartes, in which Stravinsky directs the Berlin Philharmonic in the dangerous year of 1938. Here, at last, one hears a real hall ambience and spatial depth. The sound can be cushioned and dynamics applied, the back-to-front perspective allowing the orchestra to demonstrate its corporate talents yet again on disc, even in repertoire that must have been somewhat unusual. French Columbia had a lot to learn, acoustically speaking, from Telefunken. Finally, there’s the sole post-war recording, Dumbarton Oaks, a New York traversal of May 1947. This is a reading full of colour and vitality, or as much as the small studio would allow, the orchestral players including such luminaries – or luminaries-to-be – as Alexander Schneider and Bernard Greenhouse. The record label was Keystone, one of those boutique companies of the time – like Alco and Concert Hall – that did such interesting work.

So, in addition to the four ensembles, we also have four recording companies involved and three countries – France, Germany, and the US. If you’ve not heard these powerful, sonically variable inscriptions before, this honest and finely transferred disc will make a fascinating appendix to your ‘Stravinsky Conducts’ shelf.

Jonathan Woolf



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