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Hyperion Records

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Orpheus by Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Track(s) taken from CDA67698
Recording details: April 2009
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: September 2009
Total duration: 29 minutes 35 seconds

'Virile, cogent performances from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov … crisply sculpted and propulsive, the rhythmic sleights of hand diamond-sharp, the instrumental colours bold, the impact exhilarating' (Gramophone)

'Ilan Volkov shows tremendous empathy for Stravinsky's music. With the aid of meticulous playing from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, he delivers performances that project vibrant rhythmic urgency alongside a wonderful attention to internal detail and a subtle control of instrumental colour … [Jeu de Cartes] in comparison, Robert Craft and the LSO on the Naxos label sound surprisingly flaccid and lacking in youthful energy' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is an inspired, and brilliantly played, grouping … the music is vibrant in a new way … Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra recognise and trace this stylistic course with a sharp ear … the sheer originality of all three ballets shows that Stravinsky's ability to catch the listener unawares did not stop with the Rite of Spring, and this superb disc is a revelatory testament to his daring' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Both works suit Volkov's sinewy, precise style down to the ground, and are quite thrillingly played' (The Guardian)

'This is a fine new Stravinsky disc from the excellent partnership of Ilan Volkov and the BBC SSO … it's an account that is similar in many ways to Stravinsky's own Sony Classical recording, but obviously in better sound. Volkov and his players seem to perform the work with even greater confidence and joie de vivre … the notes are by Stephen Walsh and are a model of clarity and conciseness, allied to deep understanding of the music. With such purposeful, sensitive conducting and such assured playing, this can be very warmly recommended' (International Record Review)

'The playing of the BBC Scottish SO under Volkov is so incisive and richly coloured … the whole disc, devoted to three Balanchine ballet scores composed over a period of 20 years, and embracing a wide variety of styles yet always quintessentially Stravinskian, is a joy to listen to' (The Sunday Times)

'A supreme disc' (The Scotsman)

'Ilan Volkov relishes the ballet scores of Stravinsky … he elicits diaphanous, knife-like clarity from his BBC constituents' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'Volkov explores the subtle gradations of gray in Orpheus and, thanks to his rhythmic acuity, reveals the dazzling counterpoint in Agon' (The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA)

Orpheus 'Ballet in three Scenes'
1946; commissioned by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein for the Ballet Society; first performed at New York's City Center in April 1948, with designs by Isamu Noguchi

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Orpheus was the brain-child of Lincoln Kirstein, who specifically wanted a companion-piece for Apollo to grace the second season of his new venture, Ballet Society. Stravinsky was not normally responsive to being told what sort of music he should write; but he trusted Balanchine, whose idea the Orpheus story was, and he enjoyed working with a choreographer who seemed to understand his music and whose native language was Russian. For the first time they worked closely together from the start, deciding on the details of the scenario (‘with Ovid and a classical dictionary in hand’, the composer later recalled), and agreeing on the essential tone, which would treat the well-known subject as little more than a pretext for a kind of formal/musical/spatial geometry, endowed with significance by the merest framework of narrative. For the first performance, at New York’s City Center in April 1948, the designs were done by Isamu Noguchi, who was known mainly as a sculptor. So the plastic qualities of the work were emphasized in every dimension, and its narrative elements correspondingly downplayed.

Stravinsky’s score, though routinely included among his neoclassical works, is in many ways quite unlike anything that precedes it. During the war, in America (of which he became a citizen in 1945), he had fulfilled a string of more or less openly commercial commissions, while working quietly on two eventual masterpieces—the Symphony in three movements and the Mass—which he found for a long time hard to crystallize in his mind, perhaps for lack of any likely performance. The uncertainties of war seem to have drawn him back to the church, and also to his Russian inheritance. And at some point he became intrigued by medieval music, especially the Ars Nova of the fourteenth century, with its decorative lines and intricate polyphonic techniques.

All these influences left their mark, however obliquely, on Orpheus, while to some extent directing it towards the more esoteric aspects of the next and final phase of his music. Orpheus is not in any sense a serial work; but it does hint at a new austerity and intensity that might suggest a breaking away from the more mechanical aspects of neoclassicism. Compared with the brusque, almost hearty opening of Jeu de cartes, the introduction of Orpheus has a repressed, secretive quality. Orpheus weeps for Eurydice, the stage direction informs us, but with his back to the audience, standing motionless. Later, as the Angel of Death leads him into Hades, the Furies protest, it seems, mainly in undertones (and soon submit to the beauty of Orpheus’ playing). Then, at the crucial moment when Orpheus tears the bandage from his eyes and looks back at Eurydice, who at once falls dead, the music responds with a bar of complete silence. Even the Pas d’action in which the Bacchantes tear Orpheus to pieces is truly violent only for a few bars, which must have seemed a very strange turn of style for the composer of The Rite of Spring.

from notes by Stephen Walsh © 2009

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