Symphonies of Wind Instruments [Original Version]
The Rite of Spring
Jennifer Frautschi (violin)
Gregg Smith Singers
Orchestra of St Luke’s [Zvezdolikiy]
Philharmonia Orchestra [Violin Concerto; The Rite of Spring]
Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble
Zvezdolikiy recorded in 1992 in New York; Symphonies recorded in 2001 in American Academy of Arts and Letters; Violin Concerto recorded 29-30 April 2006 in Studio 1, Abbey Road, London; The Rite of Spring recorded 3-5 January 2007 in Studio 1, Abbey Road, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.557508
Duration: 68 minutes
What to choose to mark the 125th-anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s birth, in 2007? The Rite of Spring is probably first on the list (this is Robert Craft’s third recording of it in the digital era), the Violin Concerto is a fine example of his neo-classicism (although neo-baroque is nearer the mark), while the two shorter works here chosen offer other slants on his compositional prowess. Robert Craft (born 1923), a collaborator and chronicler of Stravinsky and assistant to him, is the ideal conductor (and booklet-note writer – insightful, revealing and not afraid to get technical). Two of these recordings are new (the concerto and the Rite); the others are welcome re-issues.
The short cantata (“The Star-Faced One”, composed in 1911 but not performed until 1939) for male voices and large orchestra, would have been better-placed first on this CD; it’s arresting vocal summons and shifting tonality and textures is attention-grabbing and haunting. It’s sung in the original Russian and Balmont’s text is re-printed in English as part of Craft’s enlightening note. Symphonies of Wind Instruments is heard in its Original Version of 1920 (there is a Revision from 1947, which Craft describes as “unfortunate”). Written in memory of Debussy (who died in 1918), Craft has the measure of the work’s motifs and interrelationship, its sense of ritual and rhythmic pungency and how it leads to the (composed first) chorale that seems so deeply ‘in memoriam’ and, here, so integrated to what has gone before.
In fact, it’s the Violin Concerto (1931) that kicks the disc off, the soloist closely balanced but the orchestra well in attendance. Jennifer Frautschi gives a very fine performance of this spiky, lyrical and concise four-movement work; its vitality and expressiveness is keenly brought out by soloist and orchestra alike in meaningful dialogue and partnership and with details acutely observed.
Craft’s most recent recording of The Rite of Spring (and it is recent, recorded in January 2007) is an unusually convincing account despite some tempos being swifter than is often the case and the ‘attack’ not being as hard-hitting, as violent, as seems appropriate – the ‘Danse sacrale’ is rather tame it might be thought, if rhythmically punctilious; but, consistently, Craft’s ‘insider dealing’ pays many dividends. Craft uses the composer’s last Revision of The Rite, from 1967, “with changes incorporated from the original manuscript”. Such differences as there are could be as much interpretation as editorial and, overall, this is a Rite that breaks with its showpiece inheritance and returns it to musical values and its ballet heritage. But there’s no longer anything to cause a riot!