STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite. Apollon musagète
Intentionally or not, Masaaki Suzuki’s first foray into 20th-century repertoire on disc recalls that of Neville Marriner, whose 1960s pairing of the Pulcinella Suite and Apollo (Argo, 10/68) served notice that the Academy of St Martin in the Fields were moving away from Baroque moorings. Suzuki has chosen to set down these works with a Finnish ensemble but many of the features of his Bach Collegium Japan recordings survive the transition.
We are accustomed to crisp, squeaky-clean Stravinsky nowadays, but Suzuki is a time traveller who restricts string vibrato more than some will like. In Apollo he delights in refreshing Stravinsky’s unexpected chords with a distinctly scrunchy edge, while his nicely animated Pulcinella tends to be voiced à l’ancienne. Balances are carefully considered throughout, the microphones brought quite close within an ample acoustic. Indeed, the only sonic surprise is the sharp intake of breath, if that’s what it is, at the very start. What’s missing is less easily defined. In Pulcinella it’s perhaps a certain charm and rusticity, although Stravinsky would doubtless have been delighted to find his disavowal of national characteristics and earth-rootedness so comprehensively endorsed.
In Apollo, where Yuri Bashmet’s minutely responsive Moscow Soloists have already experimented with vibrato-lite sonority, the music-making feels equally accomplished yet just a little stiff. Ignoring for the moment the composer’s own anti-expressive posturing, shouldn’t that final ‘Apotheosis’ take us to a more emotive place? Here it’s more a case of the argument bringing us back to square one without much sense of transformation. Again, though, you might appreciate the conductor’s pristine way with the score.
There’s a bonus item too, a Concerto in D avoiding scruffiness or lugubriousness. Rest assured that this is not the kind of neo-classical Stravinsky that proceeds gracelessly via a series of jerks. Nor is it ever over-inflated or glossy.