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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Petrushka (1911, revised 1947) Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)
Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen (piano duet)
rec. The Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Cobham, Surrey, 11-13 January 2014 QUARTZ QTZ2117 [67:15]
Stravinsky originally conceived Petrushka as a konzertstück for piano and orchestra, and the orchestral score of the ballet contains an obbligato part for piano. Moreover when the composer accepted a commission in the early 1920s from the great pianist Artur Rubinstein, he reworked music from his ballet score into the celebrated Three Movements from Petrushka, in the process creating a work which stands strongly in its own right and has remained at the heart of the repertoire ever since.
What, then, of the piano duet arrangement recorded here? It dates from 1947, the time of Stravinsky’s rescoring of the work for a smaller, more conventional orchestra than the larger ensemble he had employed in 1911. Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen perform it with great clarity: the rhythms are incisive and the tempi always well chosen. The recorded sound is truthful and atmospheric too. Even so, this version seems second best compared to the wonderfully colourful orchestral original, in whichever of the two editions it may be.
That seems rather less true in Le Sacre du Printemps, and perhaps the reason why, as Stravinsky himself explained, is that the music is more symphonic in character. In other words, it develops tightly and cogently, and the composer’s piano duet version delivers this musical line with aplomb. Details are featured in the fast-moving texture with great effectiveness, and there is nothing mannered about how these artists perform the score. The initial Lithuanian folksong, associated so memorably with a solo bassoon at the top of its range, is phrased most sensitively for the very different sound of the piano. And once the faster tempo of ‘The Augurs of Spring’ sets in, the biting and percussive sound of the piano suits the music admirably. If I have a criticism of the performance it is that at some moments of emotional release, such as ‘The Glorification of the Chosen One’ midway through Part Two, the phrasing and dynamics can seem just a touch too polite when more power and intensity might have served the music short and long-term goals. To what extent the recording itself is implicated in this discretion is hard to tell. This caveat apart, though, the performance brings much satisfaction and reward.