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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Petrushka (1910-11 version) [35.33] Jeu de cartes (1936-7) [22.18]
Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev
rec. 2009/14, Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Hybrid SACD/CD Surround 5.1 & Stereo; reviewed in surround MARIINSKYMAR0594 SACD [57.51]
Petrushka was one of the trio of early ballets with which Stravinsky made his name. He revised it along with many other works, in the mid 40s, making the orchestra slightly smaller and simpler. This is the original. He also made arrangements of parts of the score for many combinations of instruments so the music must have made the composer a very useful income over the years. The notes do not say anything about this but a lot sources are available online and I imagine many music lovers will have other recordings with notes. However, the information we are given is detailed and interesting about the background and storyline of both pieces. If one combines this with the fifteen well labelled tracking points in Petrushka the events of that ballet can be followed in great detail. Well done the production team. Jeu de Cartes is a wholly more restrained score, though still fascinating to hear. If the Stravinsky of Petrushka can be heard emerging from the colourful world of Rimsky-Korsakov, the composer is in a much more modern phase with Jeu de Cartes. Neo-classicism and indeed jazz took the musical world by storm, especially in Paris, and many composers were attracted to this sort of music: Hindemith, Martinu, Milhaud, Poulenc, Honegger, the list is long. As an aside I recently had the pleasure of rediscovering the lively Partita for Strings arranged by Saudek from Gideon Klein's String Trio of 1944, part of a concert by the London Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall. Klein (tragically a victim of the Holocaust) did not live long enough to gain fame but the outer movements of his piece are very much part of this neo-classical outpouring (the Partita can be heard on Ondine ODE1072-5). Having said all that, Stravinsky in particular, whilst obviously adopting this style, still manages to sound like Stravinsky. This current disc thus allows one to hear two of the many Stravinsky styles and is all the more interesting for that.
It is good to have new recordings of these great scores, particularly since the 1911 version of Petrushka is for an even bigger orchestra. I should say straight away that the differences are small save perhaps in terms of volume and a bit of orchestral colour. This is not like different versions of Bruckner Symphonies where the actual music is often changed. Stravinsky was well known for his interest in getting paid and revised the score to extend the copyright more than for anything else. Though a slightly less extravagant size of orchestra would also make it cheaper to perform. Here the Mariinsky players have a field day and coupled with a very good surround recording indeed the result is a most enjoyable listen. Gergiev is on good form in these exciting concert performances. The detailing so necessary in Stravinsky's complex writing is carefully moulded. Both pieces set the feet tapping - though you could do with more than two feet to tap out some of it! I particularly welcome Jeu de Cartes which is a great example of the neoclassical Stravinsky and a ballet that is less often performed in the concert hall than Petrushka. There are of course lots of alternatives for both but none are noticeably better played or have better recordings than here.