The Diaghilev-Stravinsky Collaboration
For the first half-century of its life, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” (1910), which did so much to establish the composer’s reputation and that of his patron, Ballets Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev, was known to concert audiences almost exclusively in the form of the 20-odd-minute suite drawn from a score twice that length. The other half-hour was generally considered padding, fit only for--well, dancing .
It was Stravinsky the conductor and his one-time friend, Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, who by programming and recording it after World War II gained acceptance for “Firebird” in toto--the brilliance of whose big numbers is only enhanced by the connective tissue.
With due respect for the pioneering recorded efforts of Stravinsky and Ansermet and their importance in making a case for the complete “Firebird,” subtler and more cleanly executed versions have since come our way.
The most recent entries document the work of the two prime contenders to succeed Andre Previn at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Esa-Pekka Salonen, who got the job this week, leads the Philharmonia Orchestra (CBS 44917). Simon Rattle, who apparently didn’t want it, counters with his City of Birmingham Symphony (EMI/Angel 49178).
Salonen’s is the cooler reading, sharply etched and muscular, while Rattle’s combines energy and sinuousness of phrasing--an intensely sexy performance.
Both editions offer desirable couplings: Rattle with the two versions (jazz band and full orchestra) of Stravinsky’s racy “Scherzo a la Russe” and the “Four Studies” in their 1952 orchestral version. The post-Diaghilev ballet “Jeu de Cartes,” CBS’ more substantial companion piece, is rollickingly delivered, with chamber-music clarity, by the Philharmonia players under Salonen’s direction.
“Pulcinella,” written for Diaghilev a decade after “Firebird,” dispenses with the trappings of Russian exotic Romanticism in favor of the translucent textures of its Baroque sources.
The disingenuous wit of this “ballet with song,” as the composer called it, is neatly captured by British conductor Christopher Lyndon Gee, the excellent Australian Chamber Orchestra and a quartet of appropriately youthful-sounding vocal soloists. The coupling (on Omega 1011) is handsome as well: a brightly elegant “Bourgeois Gentilhomme” Suite of Richard Strauss.
The Diaghilev-Stravinsky collaboration continued in 1922 with another offbeat entertainment, the sung and danced barnyard fable “Renard,” in which the composer returned to a Russian (but hardly Romantic) sound. The instrumentation calls for only 15 players, with the emphasis on percussion and the folkish twanging of the cimbalom.
Riccardo Chailly zestfully leads virtuoso members of the London Sinfonietta and a strong quartet of singers headed by tenor Philip Langridge in this “Renard.” It is paired (on London 421 717) with “Facade,” that uniquely lovable collaboration of composer William Walton and poet Edith Sitwell--both the oft-revised 1922 original and its briefer 1979 sequel.
Chailly and the London ensemble capture the looniness of the proceedings admirably, with Jeremy Irons disclosing an unexpected flair for comedy and a sensitive ear for Sitwell’s rhythms. But Peggy Ashcroft, his co-reader, undermines the production with her breathiness and rhythmic vagueness.
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Discography
Balakirev: “Islamey;” Borodin: “Polovtsian Dances;” Glinka: “Russlan and Ludmila” Overture; Tchaikovsky: “1812 Overture;” with the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Philips 412552-2 PH.
Larsson: “Little Serenade for Strings;” Lidholm: “Music for Strings;” Soderlundh: Concertino for Oboe and Strings (with soloist A. Nilsson); Wiren: Serenade for Strings; with the Stockholm Sinfonietta: Bis CD-285.
The following are all on CBS Masterworks, with which Salonen signed an exclusive contract in 1985. Grieg: “Peer Gynt” (excerpts); with the Oslo Philharmonic.
Lutoslawski: Symphony No.3, “Les Espaces du Sommeil;” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Messiaen: “Turangalia Symphonie;” with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Messiaen: “Des canyons aux etoiles,” “Oiseaux exotiques,” “Couleurs de la cite celeste;” with the London Sinfonietta.
Nielsen: Symphony No. 1, Petite Suite, Op. 1; with the Swedish Radio Symphony and the New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra.
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4, “Helios Overture;” with the Swedish Radio Symphony.
Nielsen: Symphony No. 5, “Maskarade” (excerpts); with the Swedish Radio Symphony.
Prokofiev: “Romeo and Juliet” (excerpts); with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, “Pohjola’s Daughter;” with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Nielsen: Violin Concerto; with Cho-Liang Lin, violinist, and the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Tomasi: Trumpet Concerto; Jolivet: Trumpet Concerto No. 2, Concertino for Trumpet, String Orchestra and Piano; with Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter, and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
R. Strauss: “Metamorphosen,” Duet Concertino, Prelude to “Capriccio;” with the New Stockhom Chamber Orchestra.
Nielsen: Symphony No. 2, “Pan and Syrinx Pastorale,” “Aladdin Suite;” with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Stravinsky: “The Firebird,” “Jeu de cartes;” with the Philharmonia Orchestra.