Wednesday, 8 March 2017

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2017)

STRAVINSKY The Soldier's Tale
SCHOENBERG Chamber Symphony
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
Eloquence 480 3300 (2 CDs) / *****

Here are some classic 1970s recordings of chamber works by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), centred on his neoclassical phase of composition. During the years between the World Wars, he presided over a paradigm shift from the orchestral opulence of his earlier ballets to sparer textures involving small groups of instruments. 

The quintessential work is The Soldier's Tale (1918), a chamber melodrama with narration featuring a series of marches and dances with a touch of jazz idioms. This is often regarded as the best recording of this work, with a starry cast of violinist Joseph Silverstein, narrator Sir John Gielgud, Tom Courtenay as The Soldier and a  beguiling but positively malevolent Devil in Ron Moody.

The Septet, Octet For Winds, Concertino, Pastorale and Ragtime represent the most attractive of Stravinsky's shorter pieces, made better by the excellent Chamber Players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra who combine finesse with virtuosity. 

Stravinsky's greatest composing rival was Arnold Schoenberg, ironically a fellow emigré living in Los Angeles. The Chamber Symphony No.1 is one of the Austrian's most popular and approachable works, and the chamber transcription for five players by Anton Webern is as transparent as it is effective. This and Alban Berg's piano trio transcription of the Adagio from the Chamber Concerto get excellent readings, a good introduction to the Second Viennese School as any. Highly recommended.

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