Stravinsky: Scherzo à la russe; Orpheus; Four Studies; Scènes de ballet

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
WORKS: Scherzo à la russe; Orpheus; Four Studies; Scènes de ballet
PERFORMER: Hong Kong PO/David Atherton
Despite Stravinsky’s position as one of the towering figures in 20th-century music, a lot of his work hovers on the fringes of the repertoire. That’s certainly the case with the music on this CD, most of


it written in America in the Forties, apart from the Four Studies, a 1928 orchestration of earlier pieces. Atherton is an ideal conductor for this music, with an acute ear for orchestral balance, instilling sharp rhythmic precision in the mechanical outer movements, and comic timing in the portrait of the clown Little Tich. He’s equally successful in getting the character right in the Scherzo à la russe, originally written for Paul Whiteman, which looks back to Petrushka; and in the Scènes de ballet, which earned Stravinsky some much-needed dollars on Broadway. It’s probably his least-known and least well-regarded ballet score, but it’s an acute take on the world of the American musical, with a central big tune on blowsy trumpet getting the full treatment before reverting to characteristic motoric rhythms. The real masterpiece here is Orpheus, where Atherton realises the cool poise that lays bare rather than conceals the emotion below the surface: even the pas de deux between Orpheus and Euridice is heartbreaking rather than heart-on-sleeve. A winner. Martin Cotton