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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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.
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.