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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Pulcinella Suite (1924 rev.1949) [21:50]
Apollon Musagète (1928 rev.1947) [29:50]
Concerto in D for string orchestra (1946) [12:28]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. April 2015, Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland
Reviewed in surround
BIS BIS-2211 SACD [64:55]

Here is a surprise. Masaaki Suzuki not directing Bach and not directing a period performance. One suspects this will sell on his reputation alone. What will Stravinsky sound like directed by a man whose name is synonymous with an utterly reliable Bach cantata series? Suzuki is not the first period specialist to do this. The late Christopher Hogwood for example, made quite successful recordings of the Concerto in D along with some Martinů and Honegger. The Tapiola Sinfonietta are a top class small orchestra based in the town of Espoo some 20km west of Helsinki. Like several Finnish towns they have a splendid concert hall - if only England were blessed with so many - so the recording team from BIS have only to place microphones sensibly and a good recording is ensured. The surround sound is spacious and convincing as it always seems to be from this company. So I feel like a traitor to have to say that these performances are just satisfactory but not really recommendable given the competition.

The major work here is Apollo, an intensely beautiful, classically poised ballet unlike anything else Stravinsky wrote. In Suzuki's hands it sounds quite a nice piece (!), in the hands of Karajan for example, it is by turns sad and joyful , a limpid slow dance, every movement of which has a lilting subtlety which holds the listener, not to mention the playing of the 1970s Berlin Philharmonic which is unfair competition for virtually any other orchestra.

The Concerto in D is a vital and tuneful work, twelve minutes of joyfully off-beat rhythms and melodies. From Suzuki I am afraid it is very plain. Turn to Järvi and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie on Pentatone to hear one of many lively and superbly phrased alternatives.

Pulcinella is doubly handicapped, for this is just the suite, and once one has got used to the complete work with voices this truncated version of the score is harder to enjoy. It is nevertheless a lively and vital piece, perhaps the best of Stravinsky's baroque-inspired works. Suzuki does convey much subtlety of phrasing but it often sounds studied and artificial compared to Stravinsky himself who recorded the suite in 1965. Usually when I listen at home to the Concerto and to Pulcinella, which I do quite frequently, I find myself bouncing along with the music. It is just impossible to sit still (I don't do this in the concert hall!).

Overall, what we have here is a set of decent performances all lacking sparkle. Suzuki, oddly, 'ain't got rhythm' when it comes to this repertoire. Arnold Whittall's notes are interesting and thorough and the booklet is extremely well presented by the ever-reliable Andrew Barnett.

Dave Billinge



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