Stravinsky – The Fairy’s Kiss & Scènes de ballet

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: The Fairy’s Kiss; Scènes de ballet
PERFORMER: BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67697

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It surprises me that what I take to be Stravinsky’s most enchanting ballet isn’t recorded or choreographed more often. Curiously the only real competition that goes beyond the final Pas de Deux of the Divertimento to the mysterious fairy’s fatal spell comes from the other major Scots orchestra, the SNO in its early halcyon days with Neeme Järvi (Chandos).

Reverberantly recorded, that winning team tends to emphasise the spellbinding Tchaikovsky quotient; Ilan Volkov’s BBC Scottish SO, caught just before the handover to the equally admirable Donald Runnicles, sounds both more focused and slightly harder, due to the in-your-face strings (a surprising feature of the usually more reticent Andrew Keener production style).

What a joy, though, after listening to the choppy waters of Mikhail Pletnev’s Swan Lake, to hear a conductor with the right instinct for tempo co-ordination and continuity, so vital in the rapid changes of the opening scene.

As the fairy who’s marked out Hans Christian Andersen’s young Schweizer from birth returns to claim her own, Volkov’s own brand of magic begins to work in the expressive pinpointing of Stravinsky’s spare, hallowed instrumentation, and the vital emergence of the only really famous Tchaikovsky tune in the ballet, ‘None but the lonely heart’, is truly hypnotising. 

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The bonier grace of the Scènes de ballet also makes its mark: all credit to the vibratoless violin and cello solos, the lovely benediction of three violas. If only there were more truly sympathetic conductors out there such as Volkov to observe Stravinsky’s frequent cantabile markings, more listeners might come to love these strange exotic birds. I hope Volkov’s Stravinsky series continues. David Nice