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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 - 1971)
Apollo ballet (1928) [25:12]
Agon ballet (1957) [20:56]
Orpheus ballet (1963) [28:31]
London Symphony Orchestra/Robert Craft (Apollo and Orpheus)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s/Robert Craft (Agon)
rec. 1–4 July 1995 (Apollo); 3–5, 8 Jan 1995 (Orpheus), Abbey Road Studios; SUNY, Purchase, New York, 1992 (Agon). DDD
NAXOS 8.557502 [77.45]

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First issued on Koch, the Craft-Stravinsky cycle reappears here on Naxos at budget price but with far from budget credentials. Coupling the Greek ballets in this way makes a deal of sense and in his two orchestras – the LSO and the Orchestra of St Luke’s – Craft has two bodies that prove entirely apt, both in terms of rhythmic incision and also of corporate sonority.

Craft proves to be a firm leader of Apollo brooking little extraneous sentiment though still retaining warmth whilst evincing a sure directional line. It ensures that contours are shaped with decisive strength and that the outline of the work is held tight, though I can certainly imagine performances that go more all-out for an externalised sense of the poetic. Nevertheless there’s supple rhythm in the Prologue, a fluent and excellent violin solo in Apollo’s Variation and Craft’s flair for rhythmic exactitude in the Variation of Calliope. He certainly doesn’t spare the horses in Polymnia and brings big, meaty, weighty strings to bear in the Apollo Variation. Above all though what one takes from a performance such as this is primarily rhythmic and that’s no better exemplified than in the Coda, the last track before the Apotheosis, where Craft generates a real free, rhythmic swing.

Agon is a difficult work successfully to bring off. Craft relishes the challenges of instrumentation and rhythm, and he is rightly meticulous at bringing out, say, the trombone and trumpet lines in the First Part’s Pas de quatre. Generally he brings a brisk but fluid understanding to the score, ensuring the clarinet’s important role is never submerged (try the coda of Part II) and stressing the sheer modernity of much of the sonorities and writing. This is a decided asset when it comes to movements such as the Bransle Double in the third part which Craft certainly plays at a fast tempo, a decision repaid handsomely in terms of idiomatic drive and clarity of instrumental strands.

Orpheus is placed third of the triptych here. Craft is especially successful at evoking the lyricism of the score and at fusing meticulous attention to detail (balance, dynamics) with a sure command of structure and the spine of the ballet. He’s particularly expressive in the second scene’s Pas de Deux, a real highlight for me of his performance, but equally one can admire the way he brings out the flute lines in the Dance of the Furies and indeed the sympathy with which he directs the first scene’s Air de Danse. Warmth and clarity are held in near ideal balance in a performance like this.

The recorded sound in all three performances is unimpeachable and the notes, by Craft himself, are commendably detailed. These are finely chiselled and fleet performances that bring out the rhythmic dynamism of the three ballets, and do so without stinting on their emotional candour.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by John Phillips and Tony Haywood

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