WORKS: Petrushka; The Miraculous Mandarin
PERFORMER: LSO/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-23142-2
As the years go by, Petrushka’s fresh-as-paint fascination begins to equal The Rite of Spring – fuelled by some especially astute research in Richard Taruskin’s Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. I was going to suggest that, if you already have a Petrushka on CD, you would do best to read Taruskin’s book; but I hadn’t bargained with two exceptionally interesting new readings. Both go further than the composer as conductor in probing the feelings of the tortured puppet, a bleeding heart indeed within the lacquered box of Stravinsky’s Shrovetide fair. Nagano has a head start with a more glamorous recording and the tonal sophistication of his orchestral soloists – not least a superb flautist who launches the ballet in high style and makes a special mystery of the puppet-master’s summons.
Zander works wonders of definition and phrasing with his semi-professional Bostoners, but they sometimes strain at the leash – especially the trumpets’ shrilling ghost-Petrushka’s final insult. It’s a pity too that his pianist, Stephen Drury, perfectly focused in the Ravel G major concerto which bursts into puppet-like life after Petrushka’s quiet close, is so reticently recorded in ‘Petrushka’s room’; Nagano’s subtle, uncredited pianist is rightly spotlighted in what, after all, began life as a concert-piece for piano and orchestra. Bartók’s 1919 monstrosity makes a superb companion, with some surprising connections between supernatural Chinaman and Stravinsky’s exotic spicings. Nagano applies a French Impressionist brush to these few caressing moments, while the LSO, who have held sway here since Claudio Abbado’s even more inflamed performance, shrill their way through Bartók’s more vicious barbarisms as to the manner born. David Nice