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Jonathan Woolf
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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird – Suite excerpts (1911) [7:28]
Petrushka – Complete Ballet [30:08]
The Firebird – Suite (1919) [15:39]
7 Pieces from Les cinq droits [9:11]
Valse and Polka from Three Easy Pieces [2:45]
Valse pour les enfants – fragment [0:26]
The Rite of Spring – Part I; The Adoration of the Earth (beginning) [9:38]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fugue in C minor, K. 426 [4:39]
Beecham Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Beecham (Firebird: 1911)
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Eugene Goossens (Petrushka)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Oskar Fried (Firebird: 1919)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (Rite)
Igor Stravinsky (piano: Les cinq, valses, Mozart)
Soulima Stravinsky (piano: Mozart)
rec. 1916-38

Pristine Audio has succeeded here in completing a project to issue all acoustically recorded performances of Stravinsky’s music: Stokowski’s 1919 recording of the Firebird Suite, for instance, can be found on PASC192. What this latest release brings together is just as entertaining and thought-provoking.

It opens with excerpts from the 1911 suite of The Firebird suite played in 1916 by Beecham and his eponymous orchestra. This was early days for the conductor, who had first entered the recording studios in 1912 when he set down a sequence of discs for Odeon. This is the first Firebird to be recorded and one hears the Dance of the Firebird, Game of the Princesses with the Golden Apples and the Infernal Dance. The sound here preserves thistly scratch but is open and airy and attractive, and a huge improvement on the dour, rumbling sound to be heard on the transfer on Symposium 1096-97. Stravinsky was a rara avis in the conductor’s discography but he brings out the vibrant rhythms with balletic drive and draws some powerful playing from his excellent, if necessarily reduced orchestral forces. Sammons had given up leadership of the orchestra back in 1914 but I assume that George Ackroyd is playing flute. It’s certainly interesting to hear the minimal-to-no-vibrato of the winds.

By the time Oscar Fried came to record the suite in 1925 he could draw on the 1919 version, as he was to do when he recorded it a few years later electrically (this can be found on PASC392). In the later version Fried’s approach to the Introduction had mellowed but otherwise rhythms and balances – given the vagaries of the acoustic process – were pretty consistent. The Berlin State plays with its accustomed competence. A year or two before, Eugene Goossens led the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in an almost complete Petrushka. This is the work’s first-ever recording and its only acoustic incarnation. Goossens re-recorded it on LP for Everest over three decades later but his experience of it went back to 1913 when he had played the violin in Covent Garden performances. The orchestra plays excellently – it’s a group better known for recording with Landon Ronald and some of the star personnel included first horn Aubrey Brain.

In 1925 Stravinsky recorded a sequence of his piano works over four 78rpm sides for the Brunswick company. Nothing emerged from the session but he retained the test pressings, which would otherwise have been lost to posterity. A tape copy of the tests is the basis of these transfers and these light-hearted pieces are heard in varied states. Some are fine in the circumstances whilst others are very scuffy-sounding. One of the discs suffered a chip. The final two items are electrically recorded: Part 1 of The Rite of Spring, in a pacy Stokowski recording never intended for issue but for test purposes and Stravinsky and his son Soulima’s performance of Mozart’s Fugue in C minor, K426 from 1938, though it had to wait until 1951 for release.

This is an ingenious choice of early Stravinsky performances and both selection principles and Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers are strongly commended.
Jonathan Woolf



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