Stravinsky: Histoire Du Soldat (Suite), Etc / Craft, Et Al

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STRAVINSKY L’histoire du soldat: Suite. 1 Renard. 2, 3 Pastorale. 3 3 Pieces for Clarinet. 4 Pour Picasso. 4 Pribaoutki. 5 Berceuses du chat. 5 2 Balmont Songs. 6 3 Japanese Lyrics. 6 Scherzo à la russe. 7 Song of the Volga Boatmen 8 Robert Craft, cond; Instrumental Ens; 1–3 John Aler, Steven Paul Spears (tn); 2 David Evitts (bar); 2 Wilbur Pauley (bs); 2 Charles Neidich (cl); 4 Catherine Ciesinski (mez); 5 Susan Narucki (sop); 6 O of St. Luke’s; 5, 7 Philharmonia O 8 NAXOS 8.557505 (69:20 & , lacking Renard )

As the folks at Naxos continue to reissue Robert Craft’s valuable Stravinsky recordings, they are mixing together sessions from various years and sources into programs that differ from their initial releases. This potpourri, for example, reinstates to the catalog the composer’s 1924 quintet arrangement of the Pastorale, the solo clarinet pieces (including the sliver of melody he spontaneously dedicated to Picasso), and his orchestral version of the Song of the Volga Boatmen , all taken from a Koch International release, along with several of the small songs, the original orchestration (for the Paul Whiteman jazz band) of the Scherzo à la russe , and the septet arrangement of the L’histoire du soldat Suite, first issued on MusicMasters. The odd man out here is the 1916 burlesque Renard , in a 2005 performance new to disc.

Suffice to say that the more modest pieces are presented in a lovely light, especially the delicate Japanese songs, and Charles Neidich’s account of the clarinet miniatures. Nevertheless, one’s decision to invest in this release, even at a budget price, will likely depend upon the larger works, the Suite and Renard . Due to current discographical absurdities, Stravinsky’s own recording of the L’histoire du Soldat Suite is buried in expensive, multidisc boxes, which makes this impressive version by his one-time alter ego all the more valuable. As might be expected, Craft shares the composer’s predilection for crisp, buoyant rhythms, and quick tempos, so the spirit and satire is intact.

This new Renard is—literally—something else, however. The music is the same, of course, and though Stravinsky shaves two minutes off of Craft’s time in his own Columbia performance, Craft obtains much the same biting tone and sharp, taut phrasing. The difference is in the text. Now, Stravinsky was acutely aware of the rhythmic and tonal complexities of setting words to music, and the different effects that various languages suggest; nevertheless he felt it extremely important that the local audience for each performance of Renard be able to understand the words being sung. To that end, although the work was originally composed with his own Russian libretto (based on folk tales by Alexander Afanasiev), he collaborated with the Swiss poet C. F. Ramuz on a French translation, and personally provided an English language version for a Los Angeles concert in 1953—which, one assumes, was used in his 1962 Columbia recording. In his program annotation for this release, Craft writes that “The text of the present recording is based on this but is emended in several places by Fred Sherry, Philip Traugott, and the present writer.”

My dictionary says that to emend means “to free from defects” or “to correct.” Craft’s implication seems to be that he and the others made some minor changes intended to more accurately present Stravinsky’s own words and intention, but I wonder if that is indeed the case. Entire sections are radically altered or replaced—among them, all of the names of the Cock’s family are changed, and one passage where the Cock compares himself to Jesus is omitted completely. Since every word change effects a musical consideration, one wonders what Stravinsky would have thought of this after-the-fact “emendation.” I can’t say it does any major harm, but it is curious—and unexplained. Also curious is the fact that Ernest Ansermet, in his 1964 Decca recording, used yet another vastly different “English text” (translated from Stravinsky’s French version? surely the 1917 copyright cited refers to this) by Rollo H. Myers, which has apparently continued to be used on occasion—see John Rockwell’s review in the New York Times , March 20, 1983. Has anyone published an essay that clarifies Renard ’s textual history? (By the way, song texts are included in the program booklet, but the libretto to Renard is not.) None of which should deter any fan of Stravinsky’s music from enjoying this fine disc.

FANFARE: Art Lange

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8557505

  • UPC: 747313250523

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky

  • Conductor: Robert Craft

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Orchestra of St. Luke's members, Philharmonia Orchestra

  • Performer: 20th Century Classics Ensemble, Charles Neidich, Chris Gekker, Frank Morelli, Gordon Gottlieb, John Feeney, Katherine Ciesinski, Melanie Feld, Michael Powell, Rolf Schulte, Stephen Taylor, Susan Narucki, William Blount