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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Music for Violin: Volume 2
Pastorale (1907, arr.1933) for violin and four wind instruments [2:55]
Ballad (1928, arr.1947) from the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, for violin and piano [3:06]
Suite italienne (1925, arr.1933) from the ballet Pulcinella, for violin and piano [16:37]
Divertimento (1928, arr.1932) from the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, for violin and piano [19:42]
Variation d’Apollon (Apollon et les muses) (1928) from Apollon musagète, for solo violin and strings [3:00]
Violin Concerto in D (1931) [21:18]
Élégie for solo violin (1944) [5:14]
Tango (1944), for violin and piano [2:01]
Ilya Gringolts (violin)
Peter Laul (piano)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia/Dima Slobodeniouk
rec. February 2016, Potton Hall, Saxmundham, Suffolk, England; April 2017 Palacio de la Ópera, Coruña, Spain. DSD.
BIS BIS-2275 SACD [76:24]

This is the second volume in the BIS series devoted to Stravinsky’s works for violin: Volume 1 on BIS-SACD-2245 was generally well received, especially in these pages – review – but most potential purchasers will probably find the second volume more substantial. A word of warning: it’s easy to confuse them because of the similarity of the covers.

I mentioned this performance of the Suite italienne in writing about a recent recording on the Champs Hill label entitled Mythes review. I marginally preferred the BIS and a Chandos recording of  the Suite, if only for their inclusion of the Divertimento as well: both pieces are derived from Stravinsky ballets, Pulcinella and Le baiser de la fée respectively.

There is marginally more variety in the BIS recording than the Champs Hill and a little more energy in the Chandos than both, but it's very marginal and I could be very happy with any of these recordings of the Suite italienne. Its neo-classical parent ballet is one of Stravinsky’s most enjoyable works: see my recent review of a Decca Eloquence 2-CD reissue of Ansermet recordings, which includes Pulcinella. (To which I should in fairness add that, though I enjoyed that recording, I have seen both it and the composer’s own recording described as ‘tonally unalluring’.)

These pieces for violin and piano are attractive, the fruits of the composer’s friendship with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, who reconciled him to an instrument which he had previously disliked. They are attractively performed, too, but I imagine that most potential purchasers will be looking for a recording of the Violin Concerto, in which case there is pretty potent competition.

My own benchmark is the recording made by Kyung-Wha Chung with the LSO and André Previn (Decca 4767226, available as a Presto special CD or as a download). That’s especially good value, with equally fine performances of the Prokofiev Violin Concerts; at £9.75, the CD is less expensive than any lossless download that I can find and costs little more than mp3. Stravinsky’s own recording with Isaac Stern as soloist can be found on a super-budget 3-CD set from Sony, a tremendous bargain (88875126242, Symphonies and Concertos, target price £11.15). Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream it there.

Whether by design or by happenstance, Gringolts and Slobodeniouk adopt tempi closer to those of Stern and Stravinsky than the slightly slower tempi adopted by Chung and Previn, but there’s very little in it even on paper – the range is never more than 26 seconds – and and differences are less apparent still in practice. It’s almost as if this concerto sets its own pace; certainly, I could live happily with any one of these three recordings.

I continue to value Chung and Previn for the Prokofiev coupling and the ADD recording still sounds well. I also very much enjoyed encountering Stern and Stravinsky again as streamed from Naxos Music Library. This recording, too, has held up well, though it sounds a little shrill – and with the soloist forward in the old CBS manner – by comparison with the Decca and especially with the new BIS in 24-bit guise. Considering that the set also contains the Symphony in Three Movements, the Symphony of Psalms, the Symphonies in C and E-flat, the Dumbarton Oaks concerto – a particular favourite of mine – the ‘Basle’ Concerto in D, the Ebony Concerto, Movements, Capriccio, and the Concerto for Piano and Wind – most, but not quite all, authoritative performances – this is a tremendous bargain. Add the composer’s own recordings of The Firebird (complete) and The Rite of Spring and you have the solid core of a Stravinsky collection at the composer's own hands (Sony SMK89875, download only).

The performance on the new BIS recording compares well with both those earlier accounts and the recording is especially truthful and well-balanced, in the concerto and throughout. The 24-bit is rather expensive, at $18.29 (a more reasonable $11.43 for 16-bit) but that partly reflects the length of the album, with eclassical.com charging per second. Readers in the UK, where the SACD is on offer at £11.50 as I write, should be able to find 24-bit for around £12.

My only reservation is that the different genres on BIS involve several changes of gear in the listener’s response; I’d rather have had the concerto in other orchestral company, as on Decca and Sony. I found it especially disconcerting to follow it with the mournful Élégie for solo violin and the short Tango which ends the programme. By a happy accident, MusicBee decided to play those two pieces in the wrong order, before the excerpt from Apollo and the concerto, which now ends the recording and I’m happy to leave it like that.

With the personal and possibly idiosyncratic reservation of preferring the concerto in other company, I’m happy to recommend the new BIS recording.

Brian Wilson

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