THE GUARDIAN / Andrew Clements
Performed on original instruments, the composer’s neoclassical works – particularly his Violin Concerto, brilliantly played by Isabelle Faust, come into sharper focus
t was through their recordings of Stravinsky’s early ballets a decade ago that François-Xavier Roth and the period instruments of Les Siècles cemented their international reputation. Hearing The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring played on instruments that could have been used at the works’ premieres was in its way as revelatory as the first historically informed performances of baroque and classical works had been half a century earlier. Now with the violinist Isabelle Faust, who has already recorded a number of discs of 19th-century concertos and chamber music on period instruments, Roth and his orchestra turn their attention to the later, neoclassical Stravinsky, and in particular to his Violin Concerto, first performed in 1931.
The artwork for Stravinsky: Violin Concerto
In an interview included with the sleeve notes, Faust says that it was performing Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale on original instruments that encouraged her to go on to explore the violin concerto in the same way, using the range of tone colour that the gut strings and early 20th-century wind instruments opens up. The gains are obvious in the first few minutes of the concerto, not only in the clarity and gutsy depth that are combined with the technical brilliance of Faust’s playing, but also in the kaleidoscope of colours that the orchestra creates around her – whether it’s the chattering flutes or the chuntering bassoons. It’s a real ear-opener, bringing the concerto into a sharper focus than I’ve ever encountered before.
The remainder of the disc is a slightly odd collection of Stravinsky’s smaller pieces, all, I assume (the sleeve notes don’t detail the lineups), led by Faust. The extraordinary Three Pieces for String Quartet, as radical in their way as The Rite of Spring, are included, while the solo-violin variation from the ballet Apollon Musagète is so vividly played one wishes Les Siècles had recorded the whole work. But though superbly played, the Concertino for String Quartet, the rather routine Pastorale for violin and wind, and the serial Double Canon for String Quartet, written in 1959 in memory of the painter Raoul Dufy, are really neither here nor there; it’s the outstanding performance of the concerto that’s really worthwhile.
This week’s other pick
Stravinsky is also represented on BR Klassik’s latest collection from the archives of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of concert performances under its late chief conductor Mariss Jansons. The 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet and Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet, which receive typically suave accounts, were both regular favourites in Jansons’ programmes, but Varèse’s massive Amériques isn’t a work that would be generally associated with him. Yet this meticulously assembled performance, with every detail superbly played and recorded, is as vivid as any and more than justifies the disc on its own.