Stravinsky’s Violin music, Vol. 1 with Ilya Gringolts and Peter Laul

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: Violin music, Vol. 1: Suite; Duo concertant; Pastorale; The Firebird – Prélude et Ronde des princesses, Berceuse, Scherzo; Mavra – Chanson Russe; Petrushka – Danse Russe; Le rossignol – Airs du rossignol, Marche chinoise
PERFORMER: Ilya Gringolts (violin), Peter Laul (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2245 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This first volume of a new series of Stravinsky’s solo violin music proves at once extremely enjoyable – each re-listening only heightens my pleasure in the programme and all the performances – and extremely valuable in its illumination of an important subsidiary aspect of the composer’s artistic outlook. 

Prior to the 1930s Stravinsky tended to view the instrument and its virtuosos with disfavour. Then in 1930 he met the young Polish soloist Samuel Dushkin, and from that first encounter sprang a collaboration that both modified the disapproval and resulted in significant additions to the Stravinsky oeuvre. For their violin-piano recitals, Stravinsky extracted a series of morceaux from earlier large-scale works, alongside a five-movement violin-piano suite entitled Duo concertant (1932). That and the even more substantial 1931 Violin Concerto (for Dushkin too)  elucidate a ‘persona’ for the solo violin – by turns percussively rhythmic, jazzily playful, and calmly lyrical – in which Stravinsky’s neo-classicism achieved wonderfully fresh new expression.

Ilya Gringolts and Peter Laul steer clear of the coolly unemphatic style evident in Dushkin-Stravinsky’s celebrated 1930s recordings of these pieces, and find in each a poise and simplicity of tone and manner that strike one as instinctively right. Where needed the virtuosity is unfailing, but there too the right balance is unfailingly struck. I shan’t be banishing from my collection those Dushkin-Stravinsky versions, nor those of Itzhak Perlman, Gringolts’s mentor, not to mention the even more serenely poised Leonidas Kavakos-Peter Nagy Duo concertant. Overall, though, this disc is a winner. 

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Max Loppert