Stravinsky: Jeu de cartes

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Jeu de cartes; Agon; Orpheus
PERFORMER: BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67698

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On the evidence of this warmly recorded release Ilan Volkov shows tremendous empathy for Stravinsky’s music. With the aid of meticulous playing from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, he delivers performances that project vibrant rhythmic urgency alongside a wonderful attention to internal detail and a subtle control of instrumental colour.

This approach pays real dividends in an exhilarating if at times almost breathless account of Jeu de Cartes, Volkov particularly relishing those moments in the score where the composer is gently sending up such composers as Rossini and Ravel. In comparison, Robert Craft and the LSO on the Naxos label sound surprisingly flaccid and lacking in youthful energy.

Volkov’s Agon is no less impressive especially in the surprisingly intense Pas de deux for strings. However, elsewhere in the score Craft with the Orchestra of St Luke’s (also on Naxos) appear to bring an even greater degree of rhythmic incisiveness with the mandolin providing a more percussive edge in both the opening and closing passages. Also, for some strange reason Hyperion leave slightly too much of a gap between a number of the short sections, and although this may seem a minor issue, it does tend to inhibit a sense of continuity.

Fortunately, no such problems affect the performance of Orpheus. The most neglected of Stravinsky’s later ballets since its premiere in New York in 1948, its cool and restrained beauty stands at the opposite emotional spectrum to the bustling Jeu de Cartes.

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Yet Volkov and his excellent orchestra present a compelling interpretation drawing the maximum variety out of its haunting moments of repose and making the brief violent passage, where the Bacchantes tear Orpheus to pieces, all the more powerful. Erik Levi