Funeral Song; Fireworks; Scherzo fantastique; Faun and Shepherdess; The Rite of Spring
Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano); Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Decca 483 2562
For Stravinsky aficionados, this is like finding the Holy Grail. The existence of the composer’s Op. 5, an orchestral Chant funèbre written in 1908 as a memorial for his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, has long been known about. Stravinsky himself talked about the work, and his regret that it was lost. Various scholars had searched for it, hoping its resting place had survived two World Wars, revolution and political turmoil, but to no avail. Then, amidst the masses of material moved around during the renovation of old St Petersburg Conservatoire building in 2015, an eagle-eyed librarian, Irina Sidorenko, spotted the title page of a flute part.
Musically, it is a crucial missing link in tracing the young Stravinsky’s erratic route towards compositional maturity. Other early pieces evoke the spirit of Russian masters such as Tchaikovsky, as in the Pushkin setting The faun and the shepherdess, or Rimsky-Korsakov, notably Feu d’artifice and Scherzo fantastique. By contrast, the Chant funèbre could be mistaken for Wagner in broad, processional mood allied to passages prophetic of the more sinister music from The Firebird, composed a year later. Riccardo Chailly draws scintillating colours from the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in these early works, but Stravinsky’s remarkable development would be all the more apparent if the Chant funèbre was placed after its predecessors. Similarly, either the early Symphony in E flat or the masterpiece that pulls the threads together, The Firebird, would be a better context than an intermittently gripping Rite of Spring. Fascinating nonetheless.