STRAVINSKY Music for Violin Vol 1
Two gentle miniatures programmed here are surely among the most carefree and seductive that Stravinsky ever composed, the ‘Russian Maiden’s Song’ from Mavra and the earlier vocalise Pastorale, both played by Ilya Gringolts with a feeling of insouciance that I find delectable. The Firebird sequence opens with a shimmering extract (the Prélude from ‘Prélude et Ronde des princesses’) that you would be unlikely to encounter outside of the complete ballet, whereas Petrushka’s celebrated Russian Dance is subject to all manner of fiddling wizardry (rocketing slides, pizzicatos, oscillating double-stops, etc), as is La Marseillaise, with its multiple-stopping. In the Suite from Pulcinella, after material lifted from Stravinsky’s ballet based on early Italian masters, again Gringolts’s playing is pure filigree (immaculate harmonics in the Serenata) while both he and pianist Peter Laul combine delicacy with a sense of play, the latter best demonstrated in the Tarantella.
It’s fascinating how the two passages from the opera The Nightingale as arranged by the violinist Samuel Dushkin sound for all the world like Szymanowski but it’s the Duo concertant, Stravinsky’s only original work for violin and piano, that leaves the strongest impression, especially the three slow movements, the two ‘eclogues’ in particular, music that years ago was unexpectedly used – and to superb effect – as soundtrack material for a TV play starring Denholm Elliott. Back then Stravinsky’s questioning music held me in its thrall and I straight away acquired Joseph Szigeti’s classic Sony recording of it (with the composer at the piano), far more openly demonstrative than this leaner but no less effective option by Gringolts and Laul.
Another interesting point of comparison in this same music is provided by Anthony Marwood with composer-pianist Thomas Adès (part of Hyperion’s two-disc set devoted to Stravinsky’s complete music for violin and piano). Marwood, a fine player, is marginally warmer in tone than Gringolts (though maybe not quite so ethereal), Adès distinctive in the way he weighs and colours chords, invariably with more character than Laul. In fact it’s his presence rather than Marwood’s that proves the stronger attraction on the Hyperion set. You might also try the Serenata from the Suite, Adès again summoning tonal variety that isn’t quite matched by Laul, good though he is. Difficult to choose. On balance, I’d say Gringolts for fiddle fanciers, Adès for those whose main interest is in Stravinsky’s harmonic scaffolding. Ideally, go for both.