WORKS: The Soldier’s Tale Suite; Octet; Pribaoutki; Pastorale,
PERFORMER: Soloists; Harmonie Ensemble New York/Steven Richman
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7438-2
In this enjoyable programme, two of Stravinsky’s minor masterpieces, the wind Octet and the suite from the portable entertainment The Soldier’s Tale, are complemented by several smaller pieces, including some real curiosities claimed as premiere recordings: the early satirical song ‘How the Mushrooms Went to War’; an idiomatic violin-and-piano arrangement (made with Samuel Dushkin) of the Tango; the very slight Petit Ramusianum Harmonique for solo singing and speaking voice; and a cunning but inexplicable arrangement of the ‘Marseillaise’ for solo violin. The performances, by an ensemble drawn from the richly stocked New York freelance pool, are generally excellent and well recorded, though the Soldier’s violin should be more prominent in the Suite. The soprano Lucy Shelton sounds suitably Russian in the nonsense cycle Pribaoutki; the genuine Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov is delightfully mock-heroic in the ‘Mushrooms’ song.
Comparisons are complicated, especially as Stravinsky’s own recordings of the Octet and the Suite are in separate boxes, and the Nash Ensemble’s CfP disc including both seems to have disappeared from the shelves. The Octet is played with more telling detail by the European Soloists Ensemble under Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca, but their programme has the Suite in its unsatisfactory trio version. The full Suite is performed with slightly greater incisiveness in Robert Craft’s first Stravinsky series, on a disc including a wonderfully grotesque Pribaoutki sung by Catherine Ciesinski, and a better recording of the ‘Marseillaise’ arrangement. But these are marginal preferences, and if the imaginative Koch programme appeals to you, you need look no further. Anthony Burton