STRAVINSKY: Suite after Pergolesi. Divertimento. Duo concertante. Mavra --Chanson russe. Petrushka -- Danse russe.
Ray Chen (violin), Timothy Young (piano).
Melba MR30128 TT: 63:16.
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Incompatible compatibility. Igor Stravinsky once remarked that he thought
the sounds of the violin and the piano "incompatible." On the
other hand, he wrote all the works here. What changed his mind? Part
of it was his meeting the Polish-American violinist Samuel Dushkin, who
him on his violin concerto. Dushkin must have been a charmer, because
he and the notoriously difficult Stravinsky got along like a house afire.
The second big incentive was money, which Stravinsky, with a taste for
high life and supporting two households (his wife and his mistress) and
most of his relatives, always needed. He decided to tour with Dushkin
began to compose his Duo concertante, one of his finest works. The reservations
he felt about the instrumental combination have flown over my head. The
piece sounds pretty wonderful to me.
However, it didn't fill a recital, and thus the composer began to arrange
other pieces. From the short opera Mavra came "The Maiden's Song," from Petrushka, the Danse russe, which Stravinsky had already arranged for solo
piano in his masterpiece 3 Mouvements de Pétrouchka, the Divertimento
from Le baiser de la fée, and the Suite italienne from Pulcinella, all
from the early Thirties. Incidentally, this last differs from the Suite
after Pergolesi from 1925, recorded here and written for another player.
The earlier score has more virtuosic writing. The Duo concertante counts
as the knottiest score -- to me, one of Stravinsky's very best. "Knotty," of
course, is a relative term. If you can handle the Concerto for 2 Solo
Pianos, you can take this in stride. Everything else sports some of the
tunes you'll ever hear in settings that both keep their integrity and
also set them off in new ways. I think the composer deliberately wanted
a crowd-pleasing program for himself and Dushkin. My difficulty as a
reviewer of Stravinsky lies in the fact that, outside of juvenilia, I
of a truly lame work. Everything engages me. To me, Stravinsky's second
drawer outshines other composers' top. At the very least, it sounds so
good, as well as ever-new.
Throughout my listening, I kept thinking of Itzhak Perlman, who has impeccable
Stravinsky credentials. Indeed, he was probably the composer's favorite
violinist in his own music. He said of Perlman, after conducting him in
a performance of the violin concerto, that he'd have been happy if Perlman
appeared in every concert he conducted thereafter. With pianist Bruno Canino,
Perlman recorded a superb Stravinsky program about 40 years ago for EMI
containing at least the Duo concertante, Divertimento, and the Suite
italienne (don't remember the rest, if any). The LP transfer to CD has disappeared
from the catalogue, but I've seen it on Amazon.
On the other hand, if you've got the Chen, you don't really need the Perlman.
In fact -- though I may speak heresy -- I think Ray Chen plays better than
Perlman here at a purely technical level. Indeed, I have never heard double-stopping
this good. It sounds like two separate instruments, as does the violin's
two-part counterpoint. Chen also shapes a subtle, pliable musical line.
Perlman is more straight-ahead and chordal. Perlman gives you strength,
while Chen gives you shades. Chen's tempi occasionally move too slowly
for me, but the playing itself overcomes my discomfort. Whatever he does,
it works. Timothy Young provides sensitive accompaniment, although at times
he seems miked too closely. Other than the rare balance problems, the sound
is pretty good.
S.G.S. (August 2011)