Stravinsky: Diversions

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition (US)
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Igor Stravinsky was never too enamored of the violin-piano coupling, and even came to the violin-orchestra pairing after a lot of persuasion. That ultimate convincing took place only after he began working, at the suggestion of Schott Publishing Chief Willy Strecker, by the violinist Samuel Dushkin, a man free - according to the composer - of any contrivance and in possession of “an abnegation which is very rare.” Stravinsky was not fond of the flashy virtuoso, but with Dushkin he felt a real partnership, one that was to lead to a whole series of collaborative efforts originally designed for European and American tours, using as a basis for the programs music not just arranged from previous pieces, but in essence re-orchestrated and still in possession of the original intentions found in the first versions of the music.

The Pergolesi music comes from the collection that would become his ballet Pulcinella, one of the major works of neo-classicism of the last century, and one that went a long way towards freeing Stravinsky from the confines of the intense Russian nationalism he had been moving in. Here we have five movements found in the original version of 1925, which is more virtuosic that the later Dushkin-inspired piece commonly known as the Suite Italienne. Along the same line is the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, composed in 1928 and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Maiden. The composer’s new version for violin and piano is called Divertimento and traces the action of the ballet in its four scenes.

Stravinsky’s effective and essential sonata for the combination here is called the Duo concertante, with inspiration supposedly taken from a book on Petrarch. The work, despite the connotations taken from some of the titles present in certain movements that are related to Greek poetry, is purely logical in form, a masterpiece of its kind.

Rounding out the program are two selections culled from a big ballet, Petrushka, and an opera, Mavra. Both the Danse russe and the Russian Maiden’s Song (Chanson russe) are suitably energetic and melodically satisfying making a nice finale to this recital.

Ray Chen is the winner of the 2009 Queen Elizabeth Competition and the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin Competition as well as being a student at the Curtis Institute of Music since he was 15, and he still works there with teacher Aaron Rosand. His interpretations of this repertory are beautifully nuanced without being in the least angular or acerbic, qualities that many people like in this music. This one has none of that, being well-rounded and almost romantic in tone. It is essentially Stravinsky soft and easy on the ears, so for those who prefer that approach this is for you. Melba’s sound is warm and fluffy, enhancing the already quixotic effect. Definitely enjoyable, and definitely a keeper.