Stravinsky Apollon musagète; Pulcinella suite
These two classic ballet scores, composed eight years apart, could hardly be more different. The Pulcinella Suite (1920) comes from the ballet suggested by Diaghilev and is based on existing music by Pergolesi and some 18th-century Italian contemporaries. Stravinsky was sceptical about the idea to start with but soon went through everything of Pergolesi he could find and “fell in love”. At the time this seemed a baffling departure for the composer who had shocked the world with The Rite of Spring but history and the whole of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period have made sense of it. He regarded Pulcinella as “to some extent a satire” but found he had to change or add very little to make the music his own.
Apollo (1928) – Stravinsky preferred the shorter title – was written for Balanchine and represents pure ballet unencumbered by a narrative although the nine dances are related to episodes in the life of the Greek god. As in Pulcinella Stravinsky distorts Classical and Baroque idioms to his own idiosyncratic ends in a technique of masterly restraint. Less became more.
Stravinsky’s own recordings from the mid-1960s are rhythmically taut, as one might expect, but what comes over in these new recordings by the justly lauded Chamber Orchestra of Europe is the lyricism of Apollo. Stravinsky as a melodist? It’s a claim rarely made for him but this impeccable and stylish performance radiates melodic appeal devoid of sentimentality. Overall this is a most attractive release, an imaginative coupling and an excellent recording.