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Suite italienne for Violin and Piano [18.23]
Divertimento for Violin and Piano The Fairy’s Kiss [23.18]
Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano [17.53]
Three Pieces for Violin and Piano from Firebird KC10 [12.20]
Danse Russe for Violin and Piano from Petrushka [3.19]
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
João Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. 2019, Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal ET’CETERA KTC1682 [75:13]
Stravinsky had disliked the combination of strings with piano, and he got involved in writing for violin and piano through a roundabout route. His publisher at Schotts, Willy Strecker, persauded him to write a violin concerto for the young violinist Samuel Dushkin. Dushkin was a good, if not a great, violinist but he was also a cultivated musician and he got on well with the composer. Stravinsky also needed repertoire to play in concerts, so he wrote the Duo Concertant for Dushkin and himself to play together. This, together with a number of transcriptions from his own works made a concert programme which they toured together for some years. Stravinsky, not a violinist, worked closely with Dushkin on writing for the violin. Most of the transcriptions are credited to the two of them. Earlier on, Stravinsky had also made some different transcriptions of the same works for the violinist Paul Kochanski, though where there is also a Dushkin version, this has usually superseded the earlier one.
Here we have most of this repertoire. Right from the beginning, in the Suite italienne, which is based on the ballet Pulcinella, I realized that we would not be getting the usual flamboyant performance of this delightful work, but rather a gentle and tender one, jaunty in the fast movements, graceful in the slower ones, and not as brisk as usual. It is an unusual take on the work, and I enjoyed it.
Next we have the Divertimento based on music from the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, itself based on music by Tchaikovsky, whom Stravinsky, rather surprisingly perhaps, greatly admired. This is nothing like as well-known as Pulcinella but the playing continues the light and dancing feeling, which includes some stratospherically high writing for the violin.
The centrepiece of the recital is the Duo Concertant itself, the only original work Stravinsky wrote for this combination. This is a strange work, The composer said that it was inspired by the pastoral poets of antiquity and specifically by Virgil’s eclogues, and also that a single theme was developed throughout the five movements. True, the slower movements have the grave beauty of the arias of the violin concerto, which he had just written, and of Apollo of some years earlier, though I do not find anything particularly Virgilian about them. The Gigue, however, seems Rossinian and is also surprisingly long-winded for Stravinsky. In this movement too the playing seems occasionally laboured.
We then have three poeces from The Firebird. The Prélude et ronde des princesses is called a Khorovod in the original; this transcription was one of those for Kochanski rather than Dushkin. The Berceuse is Dushkin’s version, as is the Scherzo, which in the ballet is the princesses’ game with the golden apples. Finally we have the Russian Dance from Petrushka, another Dushkin version.
To all these works, the Portugese violinist Bruno Monteiro brings his thoughtful and rather introspective approach, well supported by his compatriot and long-term chamber music colleague João Paulo Santos. They are given a sympathetic chamber-music acoustic which well suits their interpretations. However, I should point out that this is not, as the booklet states, the entire concert programme which Stravinsky and Dushkin toured. The Stravinsky scholar Eric Walter White explains that they also made and played transcriptions from the operas The Nightingale and Mavra, as well as the early Pastorale. The recital on Hyperion by Anthony Marwood with Thomas Adès – showing himself to be no mean pianist – includes all of these and one or two other things, but replaces the Suite italienne with the earlier and rarer suite from Pulcinella, which Stravinsky made for Kochanski. That means it spills over to a second disc, but the two are priced and packaged as one. In any case, if you prefer the later and arguably better version of the Pulcinella suite and are happy to forego the extra items, this version will do very well.