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Hyperion Records

CDA67723 - Stravinsky: Complete music for violin & piano
Violin (1918) by Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin (1878-1939)
State Russian Museum, St Petersburg / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67723

Recording details: December 2008
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2010
Total duration: 86 minutes 17 seconds

BBC RADIO 3 CD REVIEW DISC OF THE WEEK

'Adès' touch with the piano parts is at once live-wire and beautifully stylish, with Marwood matching this flair for deftly characterised light and shade … the Pulcinella suite and Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss both scintillate from start to finish … the recorded sound, too, has marvellous presence' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Pulcinella, The Nightingale, the Firebird and Petrushka take on fresher, lighter, more subtle colours and timbres, all exquisitely revealed in this masterly recording from the celebrated composer and pianist Thomas Adès and his long-time collaborator, the fine violinist Anthony Marwood' (The Observer)

'This fabulous two CD-set offers so many pleasures it's hard to know where to begin … Adès handles the finger-twisting difficulties of the Duo Concertant with total aplomb, and has exactly the right incisive, luminous and chaste sound. Marwood, too, has that springy balletic quality always needed in Stravinsky, but he finds a myriad of colours to go with it: sly sentimental in the 'Chanson Russe' from Mavra, tender in the Duo. In all, it's a marvel' (The Daily Telegraph)

'It's the collective rhythmic energy and control of these players, along with their very obvious knowledge of the inner workings and details of the score, that make this such an impressive performance' (International Record Review)

'Nothing could be more invigorating than Stravinsky's music for violin and piano … Anthony Marwood finds infinite subtleties in the music's dance, while at the piano Thomas Adès is forceful without being domineering' (The Times)

'Marwood and Adès do the music every justice, bringing to their playing a sharp sense of rhythm and attack' (The Sunday Times)

'Stravinsky makes considerable understated demands on his violinist, with frequent quantities of double stops, which Marwood dispatches with great style' (The Strad)

Complete music for violin & piano
CD1
Introductione  [2'06]
Serenata  [2'43]
Tarantella  [2'16]
Pastorale  [2'42]
Marche chinoise  [3'27]
Cantilene  [2'43]
Eglogue I  [2'17]
Eglogue II  [3'05]
Gigue  [4'21]
Dithyrambe  [2'51]
CD2
Berceuse  [2'48]
Scherzo  [2'41]
Chanson russe  [3'18]
Ballade  [3'08]

Stravinsky’s collaboration with the violinist Samuel Dushkin was a great artistic success, generating new works for the repertoire as well as arrangements of some of the composer’s most tuneful and popular works. Of these arrangements, Dushkin wrote that Stravinsky seemed ‘to go back to the essence of the music and rewrite or recreate the music in the spirit of the new instrument’. Reviewing the current performers in The Independent, Bayan Northcott writes that ‘these are no ordinary transcriptions. In reducing items from The Firebird or The Fairy’s Kiss to the violin and piano medium, Stravinsky rethought and respaced their every chord’.

In the performing partnership of Anthony Marwood and Thomas Adès, Hyperion has a combination that seems to reignite the original flame of inspiration, creation and re-creation.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Stravinsky’s relationship with the string section of the orchestra, and with the violin in particular, was a love-hate affair. For a long time during and after the First World War he more or less gave up writing for strings altogether, finding their tone ‘much too evocative’, as he put it after completing The Rite of Spring, ‘and representative of the human voice’. Then suddenly, in 1928, he came out with a ballet score, Apollo, written exclusively for strings and uninhibitedly tender and expressive in precisely the way he had previously so pointedly rejected. Apollo seems to have ‘corrected’ his attitude in general, and within four years he had composed two major works for violin solo, the concerto with orchestra of 1931 and the Duo concertant with piano of 1932. Soon after that he made most of the transcriptions recorded here.

Why Apollo turned out as it did is one of the great Stravinskian mysteries. But the violin works that followed had a clear and specific origin. Towards the end of 1930, Stravinsky’s German publisher, Willy Strecker, introduced him to a young Polish-American violinist by the name of Samuel Dushkin and invited him to write a concerto for Dushkin to play and Strecker’s firm, Schott, to publish. Dushkin was a fine, if not great, violinist; but above all he was an intelligent and cultivated musician who it transpired could give Stravinsky—not a string-player—sympathetic advice on technical matters. After the premiere of the Violin Concerto, in Berlin in October 1931, Stravinsky began work on a recital piece for violin and piano which he and Dushkin would be able to programme without all the expense and paraphernalia of orchestral concert bookings. There were undoubtedly complicated motives behind the Duo concertant, as the new work would be called. Dushkin had an exclusivity on the concerto for a certain period, but after that there was no way of forcing agents to prefer him to other, more famous virtuosos, with whom, on the other hand, Stravinsky (who was desperate for concert engagements) might not want to work. A recital, by contrast, could be offered as a package. Their first appearance in this form was in Milan in March 1932. But it was at once apparent that joint repertoire would be a problem. They played the concerto (with piano), and a suite Stravinsky had made from the ballet Pulcinella in 1925. But otherwise they played solos. Stravinsky had no interest in performing the standard duo repertoire. His own Duo was not yet ready and even if it had been they would have had barely fifty minutes’ music. How to remedy this crucial problem at a time when concert bookings were falling, politics and economics were starting to close in on orchestral planning, and Stravinsky needed to make the most of his personal notoriety and the relative popularity of his best-known works?

The answer he and Dushkin came up with is to be found on the present disc. Soon after the Milan concert Stravinsky wrote to Strecker that the two of them were at work on what he called ‘un joli Kammerabend’—a pretty chamber-evening—of violin pieces, including of course the Duo concertant, together with transcriptions of pieces from Petrushka (the ‘Danse russe’) and The Firebird (the ‘Berceuse’), and a completely new suite from Pulcinella which he christened Suite italienne. Later that summer they added further pieces from The Firebird and the early opera The Nightingale; and in the next year or two the little Pastorale (originally a vocalise composed in St Petersburg in 1907), and most notably the suite, or Divertimento as Stravinsky called it, from his recent Tchaikovsky-based ballet The Fairy’s Kiss. These various arrangements were pressed into service as they became available. The Duo concertant had its premiere in a Berlin radio concert in October 1932, and isolated recitals followed in 1933. In 1934 they undertook their first proper tour, in England as it happens, with concerts in Manchester, Liverpool (where Stravinsky found himself at a memorial lunch for Elgar the day after that master’s death), Cambridge, London and Oxford. Later that year there was a French tour, and in 1935 Dushkin accompanied Stravinsky on the composer’s second tour of the United States, playing recitals or the concerto (with orchestra) in cities as far-flung as Minneapolis, St Louis, San Francisco, Denver and Washington D.C., and baffling the frontiersmen with the discovery that the notorious composer of terrifyingly modern music which few of them had heard seemed on the whole to be a natural and rather gifted melodist.

Stravinsky had of course been careful to select readily likeable, tuneful pieces to transcribe, not least because the violin is essentially a melody instrument not well suited to the harsher or more violent extremities of his post-Petrushkan style (which is one reason why he had composed so little for strings during those years). But it would be a mistake to assume that he went on to automatic pilot and handed the tunes to the violin and then simply added piano accompaniment. In his fascinating account of their collaboration, ‘Working with Stravinsky’, Dushkin was at pains to emphasize that the composer was uninterested in routine arrangement and always wanted ‘to go back to the essence of the music and rewrite or recreate the music in the spirit of the new instrument’. One might even go so far as to suggest that he wanted to recreate the music in the spirit of the new performer. Certainly his two violin suites on pieces from Pulcinella differ significantly in style (as well as slightly in content; the little ‘Scherzino’ included here is an additional movement in the later suite, the so-called Suite italienne). The reason for this is probably that, either in his opinion or in Dushkin’s, the 1925 Suite d’après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambatista Pergolesi (to give its full title), written for another Polish violinist, Paul Kochanski, was unsuited to Dushkin’s way of playing—too showy, perhaps, even conceivably too pyrotechnical. At the same time, however, Stravinsky tended to resist facile technical solutions proposed by his specialist collaborator. He would say: ‘You remind me of a salesman at the Galeries Lafayette. You say, “Isn’t this brilliant, isn’t this exquisite, look at the beautiful colours, everybody’s wearing it.” I say, “Yes, it is brilliant, it is beautiful, everyone is wearing it—I don’t want it.”’ But if he did happen to accept a suggestion, ‘he behaved like an architect who if asked to change a room on the third floor had to go down to the foundations to keep the proportions of his whole structure’. This is already strikingly apparent in the 1925 Suite, at least one movement of which—the ‘Gavotta’—seems already to have been composed for Kochanski in 1921, the year after the premiere of Pulcinella. Anything less routine, less mechanically designed as an ‘arrangement’ of tunes from the ballet, would be hard to imagine. Instead, Stravinsky completely rethought his orchestral textures (and he rethought them again when composing the Suite italienne for Dushkin).

The short Dushkin pieces need little introduction, beyond some context. Chronologically the earliest is the Pastorale (1907), originally composed for soprano and piano, then arranged in 1923 for soprano and wind quartet. For the violin arrangement, Stravinsky extended the piece somewhat (and he also arranged this extended version for violin with wind quartet). Of the three pieces from The Firebird (1910), the ‘Prélude et Ronde des princesses’ is another pre-Dushkin transcription, made for Kochanski in 1926. There also exists a Kochanski version of the ‘Berceuse’. But Stravinsky redid this for Dushkin (as recorded here), and he added the so-called ‘Scherzo’, which in the ballet is the game of the princesses with the golden apples.

The first act of The Nightingale, including the initial song of the nightingale whom the Emperor of China invites to perform at court, was composed in 1909 before The Firebird; but Stravinsky then broke off and was only able to return to the work after the riotous first performance of The Rite of Spring four years later. The nightingale in fact performs, one way or another, in all three acts, and Stravinsky’s violin piece is an amalgam of elements from these songs. The ‘Chinese March’, on the other hand, belongs exclusively to the second act (it accompanies the entrance of the Emperor and his courtiers) and is therefore post-Rite in idiom, though its mock-chinoiserie to some extent conceals the fact. The violin piece is a bar-by-bar transcription of the march in the opera, but carried out with such bravura that one can hardly believe it was conceived for anything but violin and piano.

Of the other pieces, the ‘Danse russe’ from Petrushka (1911) accompanies the three puppets in the ballet just after they have been brought to life by the Showman in the first scene. ‘Chanson russe’ is an arrangement of Parasha’s song in the little one-act opera Mavra (1922), a mock-lament in folk style for her absent hussar lover (who will soon appear disguised as the new cook). Stravinsky transcribed this in 1937, for his third US tour (and second with Dushkin). The Tango originated in a popular song that Stravinsky wrote in 1940 but which never came out in that form, because the intended lyricist failed to deliver, but was instead published as a piano piece. The violin version was apparently made by Dushkin himself and first played by him in a recital in New York’s Town Hall in March 1941. Finally, Stravinsky’s arrangement for solo violin of La Marseillaise was made in 1919, but did not receive its first public performance—by Kyung-Wha Chung at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall—until 1979.

Apart from the piano reduction of the Violin Concerto and the Suite italienne, the solid core of their recitals in the thirties consisted of the Divertimento and the Duo concertant, Stravinsky’s only work actually composed for violin and piano. The Divertimento is the final stage in a whole palimpsest of transcriptions, starting with the Tchaikovsky songs and piano pieces which Stravinsky had dismantled and reassembled for his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss (1928). From this ballet he eventually fashioned a twenty-minute orchestral suite which he called Divertimento, and the violin suite, made with Dushkin in 1934, is more or less a straight transcription of this orchestral version. It provides a kind of abstract of the ballet, from the Prologue (‘Sinfonia’) in which a child is separated from his mother in a storm and is found and kissed by a mysterious fairy, through the village fête for the young man’s engagement eighteen years later (‘Danses suisses’) to the scene where the fairy reappears (‘Scherzo’) and leads him to his fiancée (‘Pas de deux’). But it omits the closing scene, in which the fairy returns disguised as the bride, kisses him once more and carries him off to her eternal dwellings. The separate ‘Ballade’, not part of the Divertimento, is based on a later part of the fête scene, where the young man is approached by the fairy disguised as a gipsy who reads his palm and predicts great happiness. Stravinsky did arrange this piece for Dushkin, but the version recorded here was made after the war in collaboration with the violinist Jeanne Gautier.

The five-movement Duo concertant stands apart from these various transcriptions and is strongly representative of Stravinsky’s style in the early thirties, just before he began work on the stern, Beethoven-like Concerto for two solo pianos and the Homeric melodrama Persephone. A certain link with Greek pastoral poetry is apparent in the movement titles of the Duo, and indeed Stravinsky told a Budapest press conference in 1933 that the work was ‘created under the influence of Virgil’s pastoral idylls’. Yet the classical presence is more noticeable in the music’s cool, somewhat reserved personality than in anything particular about its form or musical style. In fact the ‘Eglogue I’ (second movement) is a Cossack dance, while the ‘Gigue’ fourth movement might suggest a Rossinian tarantella. As for the odd-numbered movements, they preserve a certain inscrutability of tone, invigorated by arabesque ornamentation and pungent harmony.

Stephen Walsh © 2010

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