Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale; Symphonies of Wind Instruments

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: The Soldier’s Tale; Symphonies of Wind Instruments
PERFORMER: Jeremy Irons (narrator); Columbia Chamber Ensemble/Igor Stravinsky; Columbia Symphony Winds and Brass/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 82876765862
Stravinsky recorded the Suite from The Soldier’s Tale in 1961. The few minutes extra music from the stage version were put down in 1967, but were never released. These have now been combined, along with a modern English translation of Ramuz’s original verse text narrated by Jeremy Irons. On the whole it works very nicely. Irons acts with gusto (the Devil’s chameleon accent-shifts are great fun), the musicians are excellent, and it’s always refreshing to hear that crisp, precise articulation Stravinsky brings to his own music. Perhaps there could be a degree or two more electricity or – dare one say it? – expression in some of the numbers. (The plaintive ‘Pastorale’ is a little dry.) But there are telling moments: not least the way Irons’s lines and the phrases of the ‘Great Choral’ seem to interact expressively – an illusion, of course, but a very effective one. The 1960s recordings receive superb cosmetic enhancement here. The only snag is that the reverberation around Jeremy Irons conflicts with the dryer studio sound of the originals – it takes a moment or two to get used to the discrepancy. There is however no ideal complete Soldier’s Tale on disc, and this has so many strengths that it can be put at the top of the list without much qualification.

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Robert Craft’s version of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments has plenty of Stravinskyan crispness and clarity, though it’s also a bit wooden in places. Go to the Nash Ensemble and Simon Rattle for something just as controlled but that crucial bit more alive. Stephen Johnson