WORKS: Pulcinella; Piano Concerto; Danses concertantes; Three Pieces for clarinet solo; Pour Pablo Picasso
PERFORMER: Diana Montague (mezzo-soprano), Robin Leggate (tenor), Mark Beesley (bass), Misha Dichter (piano), Charles Neidich (clarinet); Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7470-2
Given Robert Craft’s background (as the composer’s assistant for over 30 years), Koch’s 15-disc Stravinsky retrospective should have been definitive. It isn’t – for a variety of reasons, not least among which is that Craft’s dutiful, sometimes laborious, rather plain-dealing performances lack vitality, and orchestral playing (usually from the LSO) can be mind-numbingly indifferent. This account of The Rite of Spring sounds more like a collage of rehearsal takes than a finished performance, though I’d have purchased this disc to have Craft’s indispensable booklet chronology of the work. Never calculated to upstage Rattle’s outstanding CBSO Rite for EMI (nor Stravinsky’s 1960 Columbia SO version on Sony), Vol. 1 also includes Craft’s lifeless Apollon musagète, no match for Karajan’s seductively moulded 1972 DG performance.
Robert Craft fares little better in Stravinsky’s Classically-proportioned Orpheus and allegorical reworking of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale in The Fairy’s Kiss, comprising Vol. 2 of Koch’s series. These performances are well recorded, but still too stiff and unrelenting to allow Stravinsky’s fantastical imagery free reign. Better options in the former are Salonen’s with the Philharmonia (the coupling is his kaleidoscopic 1992 Petrushka) or, once again, Stravinsky’s own recording, with the Chicago SO. Vol. 3 in this batch of Koch discs is much the best, combining Robert Craft’s thoroughly engaging version of Pulcinella and Misha Dichter’s account of the Concerto for Piano and Winds of 1946. Lastly, in the case of the 1942 Danses concertantes, Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s BIS recording with the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra is a secure benchmark option. Michael Jameson