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.

14 June 2009

Disc 14 Operas - The Nightingale & Mavra

The Nightingale is an opera in 3 acts based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen with a libretto in Russian by Stravinsky and S M Mitusov. This recording was made in 1960 with the Chorus and Orchestra of the Opera Society of Washington DC.

Wikipedia has a summary of the story.

Track 1 is the first act, in which the nightingale makes its appearance.

The music. At first, the music sounded Debussy-esque - a kind of languidness, that's similar to Pelleas & Melisande. But before long, you can hear echoes of the Rite of Spring, perhaps as the Russian language imposes itself upon the music. In Act 2 there's some clear chinoiserie (unsurprisingly), but it soon becomes obvious Stravinsky.

I'm listening to the piece for the first time as I type this, and I really like it. I'm now on the "Song of the Nightingale", sung here by Reri Grist. It's remarkable how unmimetic it is. The voice has a very thin tone, actually quite unalluring. Beautiful rather than pretty. (And I've now looked up Reri Grist on wikipedia and am surprised she's not better known - one of the first Black American classical singers.)

Mavra is an opera buffa in one act based on Pushkin - libretto by Boris Kochin. This recording was made in 1964 with the CBC Symphony Orchestra. The wikipedia entry gives the basic information, including the fact that this dates from 1922, an early work in IS's neo-classical period.

It is contained within one track (14) of the CD. The music is very much like the neo-classicism of Dumbarton Oaks, for example, but the songs are very Russian-folk. The story appears to be a very folkish tale. The WP article says that IS valued this work highly, but it's hard to see why, unless, perhaps, one is Russian.


This blog - Works of Igor Stravinsky - is the result of a bargain Amazon deal. Twenty-two CDs of Stravinsky's works, mainly in recordings made by IS himself, for just £17.99. Obviously, for that price, you get the discs in slip cases in a box and a very skimpy accompanying leaflet, with small print.

So the purpose of this blog is to have one entry per disc, giving me a space to make a better note of the contents. That's it. In the unlikely event that anyone else stumbles across this, of course they are welcome to contribute.