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Igor Stravinsky: Histoire du soldat (Suite), Renard.
24 Jun 2007

STRAVINSKY: Histoire du soldat (Suite); Renard

As indicated in the copy on the CD, itself this is indeed a “unique collection of mostly short works” by Igor Stravinsky.

Igor Stravinsky: Histoire du soldat (Suite), Renard.

Aler, Spears, Evitts, Pauley, Ciesinski, Marucki, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Robert Craft, conductor.

Naxos 8.557505 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

While the cover suggests just two pieces, the instrumental suite derived from the theater piece Histoire du soldat and the single-act Burlesque, Renard, this recording includes a number of brief works that are otherwise difficult to find so conveniently. The other pieces that accompany those two larger ones are: Pastorale for violin and wind quartet; 3 Pieces for Solo Clarinet; Pour Picasso; Pribaoutki and Berceuses du chat (both with mezzo soprano Catherine Ciesinksi); 2 Balmont Songs and 3 Japanese Lyrics (both with soprano Susan Narucki); Scherzo a la russe (original Jazz band version, 1944); and the Song of the Volga Boatmen. As volume seven of Naxos’s collected edition of Stravinsky’s music, its focus addresses a need in making available these lesser known, but quite interesting smaller-scale works.

Just as Stravinsky’s style appears in bold strokes in the broad canvasses of such large-scale works as Le sacre du printemps, The Firebird, Petrouchka, the Symphony of Psalms, and other such pieces, the composer’s sonic fingerprints are evident within a few notes of chamber pieces like the Pastorale or the Three Pieces for Clarinet. The compression and telegraphic delivery that is associated with Stravinsky’s style is present in these smaller pieces, and they are equally compelling for the artful concision is part of the composer’s pointed and compressed style. Performances of these work require a familiarity with Stravinsky’s style so that they convey immediately the music, as occurs in all the pieces collected in this recording.

The attention to the two best-known pieces, the Suite from Histoire du soldat and Renard, is deserved. While it is not difficult to find any number of solid recordings of the full version of Histoire with narrator, the spoken part is often most effective when rendered in the vernacular. Yet with this instrumental suite from the Histoire, Stravinsky precluded such concerns. The version of Renard recorded here is based on the 1953 English-language translation of the 1916 piece which was, as indicated in the notes, revised by Robert Craft—in fact, he conducted this performance, which includes the tenor John Aler . Engagingly sung, Renard’s text is as important as its music, and it benefits from study, and it would be helpful if the libretto would have been included with this fine recording. As an alternate version of Renard, like the Suite derived from Histoire, this and other pieces preserve some alternate versions of music by Stravinsky, like the jazz-band version of the Scherzo à la Russe (1944).

As indicated on the CD, some of the performances found on this recording have been previously released on MusicMasters and Koch International Classics labels. This is by no means a deficit, since the recording brings together shorter works that are otherwise difficult to obtain. When considered together, these examples demonstrate Stravinsky’s efforts at writing more compressed works that are nonetheless effective. While it is a useful volume in the series of recordings of the composer’s music being issued by Naxos, this single release stands well on its own merits. The extensive notes by Robert Craft offer a useful guide to the contents and the significance of the individual pieces of this release.

James Zychowicz

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