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Duo Concertant Sonata for Two


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The acclaimed Naxos Robert Craft Stravinsky Edition continues with this fascinating album of diverse pieces by one of the 20th Century' iconic composers. The Duo Concertant reconciles the contrasting timbres of violin and piano, while the breezy Sonata fo

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Stravinsky Grab Bag May 24 2011
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This CD is part of the extensive Naxos series comprising Stravinsky works conducted by his acolyte, Robert Craft. Some of my favorites in that series are the one containing the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements Stravinsky: Symphony in C; Symphony In Three Movements, the Symphony of Psalms Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms, The Fairy's Kiss and Pulcinella Stravinsky: Pulcinella; The Fairy's Kiss and the later ballets (Jeu de Cartes et al.) Stravinsky: Later Ballets. The present disc contains three chamber works: Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano (1932) played by Jennifer Frautschi, violin, and Jeremy Denk, piano; the Sonata for Two Pianos (1943-44) played by Ralph van Raat and Maarten van Veen, and Élégie for Viola (1944) played by Richard O'Neill. The works conducted by Craft are the Requiem Canticles (1965-66), Abraham and Isaac, a Sacred Ballad for Baritone and Chamber Orchestra (1962-62), and Stravinsky's rescoring for chamber orchestra of the Bluebird Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet.

The Duo Concertant is probably best known as the music for the ballet of the same name choreographed in 1972 for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine. The Sonata for Two Pianos was written in America but is based solidly on Russian themes. It was soon picked up as a repertoire piece by such illustrious two-piano teams as Vonsky and Babin, and Gold and Fizdale. The Élégie for Solo Viola is a rarely heard work but is a moving five-minute work.

Requiem Canticles is a work that sets parts of the Latin Mass for the Dead in serial style. It was performed at Stravinsky's funeral in 1971. The performance here by the Simon Joly Chorale rivals the classic recording by the Gregg Smith Singers. Sally Burgess, contralto, and Roderick Williams, bass are joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra in a powerful performance.

Abraham and Isaac is written to a Hebrew text, adapted by Sir Isaiah Berlin, that is taken from Chapter 22 of Genesis. It is dedicated 'to the people of Israel' and written in Stravinsky's own variation on serial technique that depends a great deal on hexachordal combinations from the twelve-tone scale. This is thorny music that conveys the drama of the text. It is performed effectively by baritone David Wilson-Johnson and the Philharmonia.

Unlike Stravinsky's rewriting of Tchaikovsky's music for 'The Fairy's Kiss' ('Le Baiser de la Fée'), his arrangement of the Bluebird Pas de Deux from 'Sleeping Beauty' is simply a partial reorchestration for chamber orchestra of the original. It was done for Lucia Chase and New York's Ballet Theater in the early 1940s and has taken on a life of its own both in ballet and orchestral performances. This recording was made by a fine group founded by Craft, the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble.

This rather odd assortment of Stravinsky's works is satisfying and definitely worth hearing.

Scott Morrison
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Essential for Stravinsky Fans! July 28 2011
By goodmusicman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This Naxos CD is simply essential if you are a fan of the music of Igor Stravinsky. It contains rarely-recorded (or performed) works in uniformly excellent performances and sound quality. The 11-minute Sonata for Two Pianos (1943-44) is a very accessible work in a rare genre and the two pianists do a terrific job with it. This is pleasant and light music that is hard not to enjoy. By contrast, the 5-minute Elegie for Solo Viola (1944) is a melancholy work that is played beautifully here. The "Bluebird" (1941) is an arrangement of about six minutes from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet music for chamber orchestra. As Robert Craft writes in his excellent notes, Stravinsky improved upon Tchaikovsky's orchestration here and I strongly recommend giving it a listen. It is played to perfection by the Twentieth Century Chamber Ensemble led by Craft and, as the last work on the CD, leaves the listener with a "sweet" feeling after some of the modernism that precedes it. The 14-minute Abraham and Isaac ballad (1962-63) is perhaps the greatest of Stravinsky's serial works. It is not as accessible as the Sonata or Bluebird but it is a very powerful and memorable work. Stravinsky dedicated it to "the people of Israel" and personally sent the manuscript as a gift to Jerusalem's mayor. It is the only work by Stravinsky that is sung in Hebrew, taking the text of Genesis 22:1-19 which tells the story of Abraham being tested by God to sacrifice his son Isaac and how when God sees that Abraham is willing to do so, He makes known that He does not wish to see any harm come to Isaac as He does not delight in human sacrifice. It is a very dramatic story and hearing it sung so passionately by baritone David Wilson-Johnson accompanied by Stravinsky's dramatic music played by the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Craft is very exciting. The only work featured on this album that I just don't enjoy is the 15-minute Requiem Canticles (1965-66), which is written in Stravinsky's late serial style. It is, after all, a requiem and it was played at Stravinsky's funeral, so we shouldn't expect it to be much fun!

The title of this disc comes from the 16-and-a-half minute Duo Concertant, played here by violinist Jennifer Frautschi and pianist Jeremy Denk. Each of these performers is a master of their instrument and are among the foremost soloists of our time. Frautschi has recorded this work before, on her debut album Ravel: Tzigane; Sonata for violin & Piano/Stravinsky: Duo Concertante for Violin & Piano. The timings on the first four movements of this work are taken slightly slower in this newer recording (some nine years after the earlier recording), while the fifth movement comes out at exactly the same timing on both recordings: 3:16! Both performances are excellent and they are better than the other performances of this work that I have heard. Frautschi seems to emphasize the Romantic undercurrent of the Duo Concertant a bit more in the earlier recording, while in the newer recording the contrast between the two instruments is brought out to a greater degree. I found Jeremy Denk's accompaniment here to be slightly more sensitive than Marta Aznavoorian's accompaniment on the earlier recording, as good as that was. Ultimately, one should acquire the earlier recording due to the outstanding performances of the the other three works it features while this newer disc is a must due to its excellent program of Stravinsky rarities.

While some may find the idea of a mixed-bag CD unappealing, I can reassure you that this is a very satisfying program to listen to (although you may end up skipping the Requiem, depending on your taste). The two standouts are the Duo Concertant and Abraham and Isaac, the latter being one of the only existing recordings of the work. The meticulous and thorough notes by Stravinsky's friend and collaborator Robert Craft are almost worth the price of admission alone! If you consider yourself a fan of Stravinsky, don't hesitate for a second to grab this excellent compilation of his rarities.

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