Stravinsky: Diversions

01/07/2011
Ivan March
Gramophone (UK)

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An irresistible recital of Stravinsky’s arrangements for violin and piano... This enticing collection of Stravinsky’s music for violin and piano was written in the early 1930’s in collaboration with violinist Samuel Dushkin, whose playing and musicianship the composer greatly admired. They made a symbiotic partnership at the time, performing concert tours in England, France and the USA.

The key work here is the Duo Concertante, a masterly and highly original five-movement “sonata” in which Stravinsky stated that he had attempted primarily to “create a lyrical work of musical versification”. Yet the music includes a good deal of characteristic pungent interplay and it is in the third movement, “Second Epilogue” that the lyricism comes to the fore on Ray Chen’s expressive violin and, after an infectious “Gigue” the slow closing “Dithyrambe” is given a hauntingly cool beauty.

The other works – especially arranged to fill out the programmes of the Dushkin/Stravinsky recitals – are transcription of transcriptions. But the new versions were far from straightforward rearrangements. Instead, as Dushkin told us, “Stravinsky’s objective was to return to the original works and recreate the music anew in the spirit of the new instrumentation”. The Divertimento offers a six-movement suite “after Tchaikovsky”, drawn from The Fairy’s Kiss, and the piquant Suite after Pergolesi derives from the earlier ballet, Pulcinella. The Danse russe, of course, comes from the Petrushka and sounds catchily, rhythmically spicy here in the hands of this illustrious partnership. It is based on an even earlier transcription made in 1921 for Arthur Rubinstein, who once, in a TV programme, disparaged the composer as having no talent for melody by showing how many of his ballet tunes were originally Russian folksongs. Yet, as the Chanson russe from Mavra readily demonstrates, Stravinsky quite transformed this very Russian theme, even giving it a touch of gentle irony.

Throughout this highly stimulating programme, Ray Chen (with just the right characterful timbre) and Timothy Young, whose glittering pianistic upper range catches the ear again, make a superb partnership, suggesting to the listener what Stravinsky and Dushkin must have sounded like nearly seven decades ago. Incidentally, in the Pergolesi suite they have once more chosen an earlier, brilliantly virtuoso transcription, made by the composer in 1925 for the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski, and how vividly they cherish its moments of razzle-dazzle. An excellent, truthful recording balance, good notes and handsome packaging make this disc irresistible"