23 March 2010

Disc 5 - Ballets vol 5

Playing this for the first time, I think, we begin with a discord of strings to open Scènes de Ballet. 

1. Introduction 0:52
2. Danse (corps de ballet & ballerine) 4:14
3. Pantomime 2:06
4. Pas de deux 2:49
5. Pantomime 0:31
6. Variations: danseur & ballerine 2:24
7. Pantomime 0:27
8. Danses (corps de ballet) 1:03
9. Apothéose 2:12

Played by the CBC Symphony Orchestra recorded 28 March 1963. This piece was written in 1944. After the attention-grabbing opening it's a perfectly nice piece of music.

Next is Bluebird - pas de deux played by the Columbia SO in 1964. Thanks to this site (new to me) I know it is an arrangement of part of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty ballet made by Stravinsky in New York in 1941 for a small orchestra with prominent flute part in the adagio. Variation 1 is a brisk waltz. Variation 2 has the flute featuring again. And the coda sounds a little jazzy. A very short but very enjoyable piece, with clever instrumentation.

10. Adagio 2:00
11. Variation I 0:48
12. Variation II 0:41
13. Coda 1:37

The final work is The Fairy's Kiss, with the Columbia SO in 1965. Obviously this is the major work on the disc, written 1928, revised 1950. Apparently it's a homage to Tchaikovsky.

Scene 1
14. Prologue 8:14
Scene 2
15. A village fete 11:18
Scene 3
16. At the mill 6:55
17. Pas de deux 1:34
18. Adagio 3:02
19. Variation 1:21
20. Coda 2:11
21. Scene 4:49
Scene 4
22. Epilogue 6:16
The lullaby of the land beyond time and place

19 February 2010

Disc 3 - Ballets vol 3

I've been away from this blog for too long, so now, inspired by failing to recognise an extract on Only Connect, I'm looking at Les Noces, the first work on this disc.

The tracks are:

1. The Bride's Chamber 5:12
2. At the Bridegroom's 6:06
3. The Bride's Departure 3:11
4. The Wedding Feast 10:23

A starry line-up includes Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland on pianos. It was recorded in December 1959. The musical forces are four pianos and a percussion ensemble, as well the soloists and chorus.

I don't think I've ever heard this before. So these notes are naive and contemporaneous. The first scene is a strange mixture of the Russian style, with its simple driving rhythms, and serial melodies, which manage to evoke religious (presumably orthodox) chant. The second scene is similar, with a chorus of women's voices behind the bridegroom's songs. (The text is in English, but usually hard to make out.) In the third scene the use of percussion makes the music sound even more eastern. The final scene is again musically similar. There's not, on first hearing, much musical development here, although as I type that, there's some more relaxed ensemble and solo singing.

Now, I've looked up the wikipedia entry.  The work was premiered in 1923, so my mention of serialism is premature. The wikipedia notes the influence of the piece on minimalism - the use of ostinato percussion certainly prefigures Reich, for example.

31 August 2009

Disc 4 - Ballets Vol 4

The disc opens with the calm first scene of Apollo (or Apollon Musagète. This work was written in 1928 for the Ballets Russes of Balanchine. Here it's played by the Columbia SO, recorded in June 1964. Wikipedia entry is detailed and helpful.

The tracks are as follows:
First tableau
1. Prologue: The birth of Apollo (Largo - allegro - tempo I) (4:36)

Second scene
2. Variation d'Apollon (Appolon et les Muses) 2:55
3. Pas d'action (Apollon et les trois Muses: Calliope, Polymnie et Terpsichore) (moderato) 4:37
4. Variation de Calliope (l'Alexandrin) (allegretto) 1:29
5. Variation de Polyhymnia (allego) 1:16
6. Variation de Terpsichore (allegretto) 1:30
7. Variation d'Apollon (lento) 2:07
8. Pas de deux (Appolon et Terpsichore) (adagio) 3:47
9. Coda (Apollon et les Muses) (vivo - tempo sostenuto - agitato) 3:16
10. Apothéose (largo et tranquillo) 3:09

(I've taken the movement names - with their mix of English and French) from the cd sleeve.

The second ballet is Agon, according to the wikipedia Stravinsky article, "an important transitional composition between Stravinsky's neo-classical period and his serial style". There's a short article on the ballet itself. It was written in 1957 and this recording was made in June that year by the Los Angeles Festival Symphony Orchestra, under Stravinsky.

Tracks as follows:

11. Pas de quatre 1:48
12. Double pas de quatre 1:38
13. Triple pas de quatre 1:10
14. Prelude 0:50

First pas de trois
15. Saraband step 1:19
16. Gaillarde 1:18
17. Coda 1:27
18. Interlude 0:49

Second pas de trois
19. Bransle simple 0:57
20. Bransle gay 0:53
21. Bransle double 1:31
22. Interlude 0:51
23. Pas de deux 4:13
24. Coda 1:41
25. Four duos 0:33
26. Four trios 2:28

The final work is Card game, which sounds better in French: Jeu de cartes. A "ballet in three deals", it was written in 1936 - 37, and this recording is from March 1964 with the Cleveland Orchestra.

The tracks are:

27. First deal (Alla breve - Moderato assai - Tranquillo) 5:16
28. Second deal (Alla breve - Marcia - Variazioni 1 - 5 - Coda - Marcia) 9:44
29. Third deal (Alla breve - Valse - Presto - Tempo del principio) 7:33

15 August 2009

Disc 6 - Ballets vol 6

This disc completes the set of complete ballet scores.

First up is Pulcinella. IS conducting the Columbia SO in August 1965. Tracks as follows:

1. Overture 1:55
2. Serenata 2:26
3. Scherzino 20:34
4. Tarantella 4:18
5. Gavotte with two variations 9:30

Then Orpheus. Same orchestra, July 1964

Scene 1
6. Orphee 2:52
7. Air de danse 3:14
8. Dance of the angel of death 2:21
9. Interlude 2:01

Scene 2
10. The Furies 3:10
11. Air de danse - Interlude - Air de danse 3:33
12. Pas d'action 1:55
13. Pas de deux 5:03
14. Interlude 1:05
15. Pas d'action 2:34

Scene 3
16. Apotheose d'Orphee 2:53

As with Disc 2, I'm blogging this now because the Proms are currently featuring Orpheus, a work I hardly know at all. So my comments are based on the version I'm currently hearing on the radio, but it's clear the work is a fairly severe neo-classical piece. It's from 1947, but there's no wikipedia entry. From which I assume it's regarded as fairly minor, but if that's so, it just illustrates the standard of Stravinsky's other work.

It's a little hard to visualise it as a ballet. In this performance at least, the music is too consistently stately. But it's a lovely piece of music.

13 August 2009

Disc 2 - Ballets vol 2

I'm blogging this one because The Rite of Spring's about to be performed on BBC4 live from the Proms.

On this disc it's performed by the Columbia SO under Stravinsky. The tracks are as follows:
Part 1: The adoration of the earth
16: Introduction (lento) 2:58
17: The Augurs of Spring (dance of the young girls) 3:04
18: Mock abduction 1:17
19: Spring round dances 3:05
20: Games of the rival tribes 2:00
21: Procession of the wise elder 0:42
22: Adoration of the earth (the wise elder) 0:25
23: Dance of the earth 1:15

Part 2: The sacrifice
24: Introduction (largo) 3:42
25: Mystical circles of the young girls 2:52
26: Glorification of the chosen victim 1:27
27: Summoning of the ancestors 0:44
28: Ritual of the ancestors 3:18
29: Sacrificial dance (the chosen victim) 4:35

Having typed all that out, it's struck me how spasmodic it is - how the sections are all short, some very short. On the prom discussion, a dancer talked about the extreme demands the last section makes of the dancer, so maybe that's why. On the other hand, they were discussing that maybe the music is actually not good for ballet - it's too predominant - and that's why we now know it as a concert work.

Anyway, it's a work I can listen to over and over. Although I know it really well, it never fails to impress with the variety of mood and music. And it's a work I heard at the Proms, one of the two times I attended, back in the 20th century. It proved to me that a live orchestra at full tilt is like nothing else on earth.

In many ways, this was a key work in developing my love of classical music. I came to classical music through dissonance and discord and thumping syncopated rhythm. That may be why I find Brahms so uninteresting. I'd like to think that this work could turn any open-eared music fan, but I suspect that's not true. Maybe the effect is just too strong.

3/9/09 The disc begins, however, with a recording of Petrushka made by the Columbia SO also in 1960. This is the 1911 version; the wikipedia article has details on the differences between this and the 1947 revision.

Here are the tracks:

Part I: The Shrovetide Fair

* Introduction (at the Shrovetide Fair)
* The Charlatan's Booth
* Russian Dance

Part II: Petrushka's Cell

* Petrushka's Cell

Part III: The Moor's Room

* The Moor's Room
* Dance of the Ballerina
* Waltz - The Ballerina & the Moor

Part IV: The Shrovetide Fair (Evening)

* Dance of the Wet Nurses
* Peasant With Bear
* The Jovial Merchant with Two Gypsy Girls
* Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms
* The Masqueraders
* The Fight - The Moor and Petrushka
* Death of Petrushka
* Apparition of Petrushka's Double.

28 June 2009

Disc 10 - Concertos

The disc begins with a work that's new to me, the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments. Movements:
Largo; allegro-maestoso
This piece dates from 1923/24, updated in 1950. Played here by Phillippe Entremont with the Columbia SO in 1960. There's a decent wikipedia entry. I'm surprised I haven't heard this before; it's a striking piece with a very lively first movement. The second movement is stately and contemplative, and the third completes it pleasantly - a spirited toccata combining with some calm processional music.

This disc ends with the Violin Concerto, with Isaac Stern and the Columbia SO.
Toccata 5:33
Aria 1: 4:09
Aria 2: 5:08
Capriccio: 5:55

It's a raw performance, with the violin sometimes sounding quite harsh against the orchestra. The sound is very close, quite unlike a more modern recording. The recording makes it sound rather like a chamber orchestra. I think Stern's playing is maybe more romantic than the work, which is essentially neo-classical, needs. The solo part is much more prominent here than in the other recording I have (Kyung Wha Chung), which makes several harsh discords much more obvious.

16 June 2009

Disc 11 Miniature Masterpieces

This disk begins with one of the shortest pieces in the set, the Greetings Prelude, just 49 seconds long. I'm typing this update on 17 June, which is an astonishing co-incidence as the piece is a variation of 'Happy Birthday to You', and today is the anniversary of IS's birth. (I knew this because Google has a commemorative logo.) I would imagine the piece has been played a few times on the radio today. This recording was made by Columbia SO in 1963

The Concerto in E-flat "Dumbarton Oaks" is on this disc, in a recording from 1954. This has always struck me as one of the most amicable works of IS. It's firmly in the neo-classical mode. Wikipedia has a decent article. You could ask why Stravinsky and Prokofiev (1st Symphony) shared this clear affection for the classical approach, when both were major figures in modernism. Stravinsky's huge and enduring influence was Tchaikovsky, but it's hard to hear any of him in this. (Not so long ago, though, Radio 3 ran a week of playing only Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky and it was so obvious that every time Stravinsky did something different, there was a precedent in Tchaikovsky.)

Anyway, this was composed in 1937-38.