STRAVINSKY:  Petrushka (original version).  Song of the Nightingale.  Fireworks.
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Lorin Maazel, cond.

RCA/BMG 57127 (F) (DDD) TT:  61:03 

STRAVINSKY:  Petrushka (1947 version).  Pulcinella Suite
New Philharmonia Orch/Philharmonia Orch/Otto Klemperer, cond.

Testament SBT 1156  (F) (ADD)  TT:  63:48 (THIS CD HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED) 

With more than thirty recordings currently in Schwann/Opus, one might question two more, but both are of interest—if  for different reasons.  What a pleasure it is to hear the Vienna Philharmonic playing Stravinsky's music; it isn't often this orchestra plays it although it is fascinating to note they performed it in 1934 with Klemperer on the podium.  I vividly remember hearing a non-commercial recording of The Rite of Spring from many years ago with Sir Georg Solti conducting, and it was stunning—the VPO played every note with conviction, and it was exciting indeed. They approach Petrushka the same way, and the analytical recording let us hear the myriad of orchestral detail in this somewhat more heavily scored original version of the music dating from 1911. The 1947 version isn't really that much lighter in texture; rumor has it that Stravinsky prepared this version more for copyright than musical reasons. 

Some collectors may remember Maazel's electrifying Petrushka  recording of about three decades ago  with the Israel Philharmonic, one of the most dynamic ever set to disks.  This new performance  is  more sedate—it almost would have to be—but elegant, carefully paced, and totally compelling.  Equally impressive is Song of the Nightingale, a performance that almost matches Fritz Reiner's 1956 Chicago recording. The sound is clear and wide-range, not as opulent as Maazel's recent Debussy collection with the same orchestra.

Those who have heard Klemperer's 1926 recording of Debussy's Festivals know of his straight-forward, insensitive approach to Impressionistic music at that time. Stravinsky's music might seem to be equally alien; surprising to me is that Klemperer had considerable association with Stravinsky's  music over the years.  He first heard  Petrushka in 1914 with Pierre Monteux directing, conducted it himself for the first time in 1922 at Cologne, with later performances in New York, Russia and Los Angeles in addition to the 1934 Vienna  performance mentioned earlier. He also conducted  a number of other concert performances of Stravinsky, including staged productions of Oedipus Rex and Mavra as well as Petrushka. EMI considered having Klemperer record Petrushka in 1965 but abandoned the project thinking he was losing interest in 20th century music. However, Klemperer took over a concert that was to be conducted by Paul Kletzki, insisted  Petrushka be included in the program and EMI about-faced, deciding  to make a studio recording. Three  full sessions in March 1967  were devoted to Petrushka.  EMI felt the results were not worthy to issue, so  tapes remained in the vaults. Recently  they were reexamined and it was decided that through judicious editing it finally would be  possible to have Klemperer's Petrushka, and the result is heard on this Testament CD. It turns out to be a misguided venture Klemperer's rock-solid  approach, which can be  effective and powerful in music of  other composers, eliminates all of score's  whimsy and fantasy. Petrushka never should be boring; this one is. It just plods along, marred by occasional careless ensemble playing. This is the most disappointing of all Klemperer recordings. The coupling of  Pulcinella is infinitely  better, a known factor as it has been issued before.

If you are interested in these two works of Stravinsky, surely the CD to get is the 1993 recording with Riccardo Chailly and the Concertgebouw which includes the complete Pulcinella instead of just the suite. The sound is excellent, although bass lacks impact; this still is the one to have for these two works together. Those who love Petrushka also might wish to investigate Yuri Temirkanov's imaginative 1975 Leningrad version issued on RCA (32044) although, surprisingly, he doesn't have the tambourine player drop the instrument signifying Petrushka's death. Of course Klemperer enthusiasts will wish to have his Petrushka in spite of its deficiencies.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)