Stravinsky: Music for Violin and Piano

Stravinsky
Suite Italienne [arr. from Pulcinella]
Pastorale
The Nightingale – Song of the Nightingale; Chinese March
Duo Concertante
The Firebird – Berceuse; Scherzo; Ronde des Princesses
Mavra – Chanson Russe
Divertimento [arr. from The Fairy’s Kiss]
Petrushka – Danse Russe

Anthony Marwood (violin) & Thomas Adès (piano)


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 9 September, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting the music that Stravinsky arranged, and composed, for violin and piano as a single recital makes such sense that one wonders if it has actually been attempted since he and Samuel Dushkin gave their numerous recitals together in the 1930s.

Neither was a virtuoso on his chosen instrument (indeed, Dushkin’s commercial recording of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto rather makes one doubt his competence in the first place), yet the undemonstrative nature of their respective playing was as suited to the inherent nature of Stravinsky’s creativity as to the pragmatic nature of recital-giving as Stravinsky conceived it.

The outcome is some 80 minutes of music rarely less than engaging, and often as inspired as those works that provided the impetus to transcription. And, in the hands of two such capable musicians as Anthony Marwood and Thomas Adès, one never less than pleasurable.

Although his only work directly conceived for the medium, Duo Concertante (1932) is among the most original of all Stravinsky’s pieces from the 1930s: the lie – along with the slightly later Concerto for Two Pianos (without orchestra) – to any charge his music from that decade lacked creative drive. Whether in the distilled intricacy of ‘Cantilène’, subtly contrasted lyricism of the ‘Eglogue’, the coursing energy of ‘Gigue’ or heightened eloquence of the final ‘Dithyrambe’, this is music as thought-provoking as any of its composer’s theatrical conceptions from the preceding decade – with Marwood and Adès responding accordingly. Why such a work remains at the margins of a repertoire not over-endowed with masterpieces is hard to fathom, but such advocacy at least suggests its time may have come.

The remainder of the programme consisted of transcriptions. Not all are uniformly successful: indeed, Suite Italienne, based on Pulcinella, seems (even in its revision of a similar suite made eight years earlier) an oddly contrived collection, bending the music to a medium that, particularly in the ‘Serenata’ and ‘Minuetto e Finale’, ought to have fitted it more idiomatically.

Not so that of the early Pastorale, its metrical subtleties and winsome melody fitting the medium like the proverbial glove, while the two excerpts from “The Nightingale” open up a world – sensuous and capricious – that only Szymanowski in his Mythes (for violin and piano) had mined so potently.

If the excerpts drawn from The Firebird are less scintillating, only the ‘Berceuse’ – with its awkward integration of main and counter-melody – disappoints, while the amiable Chanson Russe drawn from the short one-act opera “Mavra” and the dashing Danse Russe from Petrushka are both encore items par excellence.

The most absorbing transcription, however, is that of the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss, which succeeds in crystallising the means by which Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky ‘become one’ with an even greater acuteness than the orchestral original. Hearing, say, the final ‘Pas de deux’ without the benefit of prior knowledge and trying to guess the composer might lead one to some intriguing suppositions.

Marwood and Adès were pertinent guides throughout, with the former’s often spare but eloquent tone ideally complemented by the latter’s sensitivity to dynamic nuance – an aspect of Stravinsky brought out by the specific qualities of the medium. A rewarding recital that would transfer ideally to disc, making one hopeful that a recording of this music will emerge before too long.

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