IGOR STRAVINSKY - VOLUME I
L'oiseau de feu: Suite (1945 edition) New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra (rec. Jan. 28, 1946). Petrushka: Selections (1910-1911 edition) New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra (rec. April 4, 1940). Le sacre du printemps (1913 edition) New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra (rec. April 29, 1940). L'histoire du soldat Concert Suite (Marcel Darrieux, violin; M. Boussagol, double bass; Jean-Paul Morel, percussion; Emile Godeau, clarinet; Gustav Dhérin, bassoon; Eugène Foveau, trumpet; Raphaël Delbos, trombone (rec. May 6/7,1932).Ragtime for 11 Instruments (Inst. Ens. rec. July 13, 1934). Ragtime. (Igor Stravinsky, Pleyel piano. rec. July 15, 1934). Pulcinella (Inst. Ens. rec. Nov. 10, 1928). Les noces (Kate Winter, soprano; Linda Seymour, alto; Parry Jones, tenor; Roy Henderson, bass; Chorus and Inst. Ens. rec. July 10, 1934). Octet for Winds (Inst. Ens. rec. May 7&9, 1932). Concerto for Piano and Winds (Soulima Stravinsky, piano; Inst. Ens. rec. Nov. 17, 1943). Serenade in A Major (Igor Stravinsky, Pleyel piano. rec. Juy 6&7, 1934). Le baiser de la fée: Divertimento (RCA Victor Orch. rec. Sept. 16 & 20, 1947).
ANDANTE RE A 1960 (3 CDs) (mono) TT: 3 hrs. 33 min
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IGOR STRAVINSKY - VOLUME II
Apollon musagète (RCA Victor Orch. rec. April 1&5, 1950). Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (Igor Stravinsky, piano; Walther Straram Orch/Ernest Ansermet, cond. rec. May 8-10, 1930). Symphony of Psalms (Alexis Vlassof Chorus/Walther Straram Orch. rec. Feb. 17-18, 1931). Violin Concerto in D (Samuel Dushkin, violin; Lamoureux Orch. rec. Oct. 28-29, 1935). Duo Concertante for Violin and Piano (Samuel Dushkin, violin; Igor Stravinsky, piano. rec. April 6&7, 1933). "Arrangements by Stravinsky & Dushkin" - excerpts from L'Oiseau de feu, Petrushka, Pulcinella and Le Chant du rossignol. (Samuel Dushkin, violin; Igor Stravinsky, piano. rec. June 6-8, 1933). Pastorale (Ens. rec. June 6, 1933). Concerto for Two Pianos. MOZART: Fugue in C Minor, K. 426 (Igor and Soulima Stravinsky, pianos. rec. Feb. 14 & 16, 1938). Jeu de cartes (Berlin Philharmonic Orch. rec. Feb. 21, 1938). Concerto in E-Flat "Dumbarton Oaks." (Hamburg Chamber Orch/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, cond. rec. June 26, 1939). (Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orch. rec. April 28, 1947).
ANDANTE RE A 1100 (3 CDs) (mono) TT: 3 hrs. 22 min.
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Surely no composer in history recorded more of his own music (often in duplicate and even in tripcliate) than Igor Stravinsky. However, starting with the contents of these two copiously illustrated and annotated, inimitably bound, sturdily boxed volumes of three discs each (although getting the first one out of each album can result in fingermarks and possibly even minute scratches), he began recording acoustically in France in 1930 . These six analog CDs go through 1950—later for RCA Victor, American Columbia (then CBS before Sony bought the company), and DG in his terminal Webern period. The lifelong irony was that he lacked any training as a conductor, although thoroughly schooled as a pianist. In his post-European career stateside, Robert Craft became not only his amanuensis but increasingly prepared orchestras for Stravinsky’s recording sessions. The double irony is that, at least currently, too many discs recorded in stereo for CBS/Sony—once available in a 22-CD package—are no longer in the catalog.

CDs here include two performances with an “RCA Victor Symphony”: the Divertimento from La baiser de la fée (his formerly notorious Tchaikovsky pastiche), first recorded on Mexican Victor but remade in 1947 in Hollywood; and Apollon musagète recorded in New York City in 1949 with the NYPSO's then-concertmaster, John Corigliano Sr., and Michael Rosenker as violin soloists. Danses concertantes with “a chamber orchestra of unspecified origin” was a 1947 RCA product but didn’t make the cut here (nor did the sixth-side filler, Scherzo à la Russe). However, a 1947 recording of his 10-year-old Dumbarton Oaks Concerto with that estate’s "Festival Orchestra" is included—originally on 78s for the Keynote label but mastered by Andante from two “Classic C” 78s. Three more orchestras not of French origin are the New York Philharmonic-Symphony of 1940 (Le Sacre du printemps and gobbets from the 1911 original version of Petrushka) plus 1946 (the Firebird Suite of 1945, newly revised to protect I.S.’s copyright), the Berlin Philharmonic of 1938 (Jeu de cartes), and the Hamburg Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (an alternative 1939 version of Dumbarton Oaks, dismayingly included). The only music in which I.S. didn’t have a hand (either grasping the baton or applying both to the keyboard) was the early- '20s Concerto for Piano and Winds recorded at Paris in 1943 by his son Soulima (1910-94) with a wind ensemble led by Fernand Oubradous. Soulima (I.S.’s third of four children) also recorded the Concerto for 2 Pianos and Mozart’s C-minor Fugue, K.546, in 1938 with his father, with whom he toured widely before the war, and stateside for a shorter time afterward. But a rift developed between them, arguably the increasing presence and influence of Craft who became closer to I.S. than anyone other than his second wife Vera.

The NYPSO records are legendary despite errors in the playing of Sacre—Craft, who wrote the essay for Vol. 1, still considers it the best of some 125 recordings to date. Sixteen minutes from the original Petrushka are tantalizing (it wasn’t rescored until 1947); Stravinsky’s articulation and speeds are viscerally exciting as well as ear-opening. The Firebird here is less expressive than I.S. was heard to conduct it live (other than his own music, he seems only to have led Glinka’s Russlan and Lyudmilla Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Second “Little Russian” Symphony). The 1934 London recording of Les Noces (The Wedding, his last “Russian” work), in storied Studio 1 at Abbey Road, is vividly percussive and furthermore sung in English, when the words can be understood, which begins about four minutes into a piece I confess never to have understood and seriously dislike.

I.S.’s first recording of Symphonie du Psaumes in February of ‘31, just eight weeks after its premiere in Paris, is most touching in the final “Alleluia” movement, but a French chorus cannot have been the timbre I.S. had in mind when he wrote it, although the “Walter Straram” Orchestra at least musters a tidier ensemble than we hear in the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, even with Ernest Ansermet on the podium. Well into the ‘60s, Parisian musicians free-lanced liberally, and while there were virtuosos aplenty among wind instruments and percussion, strings tended almost always to be messy, on occasion to the point of anarchy. The nadir here comes unexpectedly from the Lamoureux Orchestra in an accompaniment so chaotic for Samuel Dushin’s premiere recording of the Violin Concerto in 1935 that those who weren’t dropping out, and then back in, perhaps had the music pages upside down. Stravinsky nominally conducted, but his own handiwork as a composer defeated him as a conductor. Better to hear his keyboard partnership with Dushkin in the Duo concertant I.S. wrote for his favorite violinist, along with seven encore- type pieces from his ballets, and a brief Pastorale for violin and wind quartet.

Stravinsky himself can be appreciated alone at the keyboard in the A-major Serenade(1925)and solo Piano-Rag-Music (1919). Otherwise, whether in excerpts from Pulcinellaor the Octet (despite some celebrated prewar-2 personnel) or the Ragtime for 11 instruments, he had the problem of getting in his own way despite the sharp, short articulation favored. Interpreters since have tended to extend or soften or prettify what the middle-aged composer really wanted, even if he couldn’t always get it. As close as he came on prewar 78s, perhaps, was in the suite from L'histoire du soldat (blessedly minus the spoken roles). Everything said and weighed, these are library volumes of immense historic value, and to the credit of Andante’s technical staff their transfers from 78s are astonishing at best, and never less than fastidious. Just how they accomplished this you can read in the foreword of each volume, but I’d advise (again) skipping the introductory cliches that Tim Page was comissioned to write for each volume. Grove-2 entries, pertinent to each era in the composer’s life, have been valuably chosen, and Craft’s program note in Volume 1as well as the late Michael Oliver’s in Volume 2 are elegantly done, if not always objectively.

Whether Stravinsky was “unquestionably the most influential composer of the 20th century” (as Page’s fulsome tribute begins) or one of a single handful of greats—I would nominate Debussy as the most widely and enduringly influential—I.S. was an icon, as well as a self-promoter nonpareil. To have this documentation of his fifth decade and part of his sixth is praiseworthy in the highest sense. Would that Sony would bestir itself to reissue the best of its documentation from the remaining decades of Stravinsky’s life.

R.D. (October 2003)