Stravinsky: Jeu de cartes; Danses concertantes; Scenes de Ballet

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky
WORKS: Jeu de cartes; Danses concertantes; Scenes de Ballet
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Twentieth Century Ensemble; Orchestra of St Luke’s/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.557506
Stravinsky’s remarks on how one should perform his music – metronomic regularity, no ‘interpretation’ – are entertaining, but they need to be taken with a big spoonful of salt. Robert Craft was Stravinsky’s amanuensis, chronicler and assistant conductor in the recording studio, so no one today is better placed to give us the music as the composer said he wanted it. Tempos are well judged and related to each other with exemplary logic, articulation is clear, balance achieved without homogenising the textures. There are times when Craft brings a welcome rhythmic drive to the music, as in parts of Jeu de cartes and quite a lot of Danses concertantes. But energy, nervous excitement, biting wit – all these seem in short supply. Listening to the long elegant woodwind arabesques in Danse concertantes. I can’t believe Stravinsky really meant these to be so impassive, whatever he said. Is there no room for tenderness and sensual warmth? The notes on the page seem to cry out of it. One doesn’t want exaggeration, of course, but a suggestion that there’s a human face behind the mask would be welcome from time to time. For something less robotic, with plenty of rhythmic muscle, try Riccardo Chailly’s Jeu de cartes, or there’s Charles Dutoit’s lively and refined Danses concertantes (both are on bargain Double Decca). Craft’s performances have plenty to say about how the music should go, rather less about why.