Dennis Russell Davies conductor
Recorded October 2002 at Liederhalle Stuttgart
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
This reference recording of conductor Dennis Russell Davies’s account of Igor Stravinsky is proof that a conductor can make all the difference. Davies sprinkles the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester with life at every turn and in the process reintroduces us to a composer whose music is all too often neglected in spite of his fame. He’s either the Russian provocateur whose ballet The Rite of Spring caused a riot during its 1913 premier or the poster child for a now passé neoclassicism. We can be thankful for having recordings such as this to educate.
In light of this, Davies has assembled a program that brings together the known and the not so known, opening in the latter persuasion with the 1960 Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum. Stravinsky’s magisterial humility shines like light through the stained glass of his sources. As one might expect, brass figures heavily in these Baroque arrangements and recalls the matrix of Bach’s first Brandenberg Concerto. It is the thrill of the hunt and divine peace all rolled into one and paints Stravinsky as a skillful pastiche artist.
Davies and his musicians soften the neoclassical category by approaching the music as it presents itself to be. Consequently, a piece like the Danses Concertantes (1942) for chamber orchestra comes across as neither a reimagining nor a recycling of fashionable moods, but rather the exuberance of its own soundness. The halting rhythms and skillful wind writing—note, for instance, the bassoon in Variation IV—make for an enchanting experience all around.
Next is the Concerto in D (1946) for string orchestra, which here finds itself reborn in time. Its vivacious interior shows in the attention paid to dynamics and syncopation. The meat of its second movement sits comfortably between the two more strained slices above and below. The latter follows a line of agitation from which the rest is blended, leaving a cello to fade out of sight…
…only to resurface in the Apollon musagète of 1927/28. This ballet, written for Georges Ballanchine in two tableaux, finds the cello running through its half-waking dreams like remembrance. Its counterpart, the violin, makes similar orchestral encroachments, only to pull at the intertextual weave therein until a somber but spirited finish is all that remains.
Stravinsky’s is a macramé of inspiring proportions. Yet it is always surrounded by modesty, as if the very world might crumble were too many of its resources funneled into one place.