STRAVINSKY The Soldier's Tale
This new version of Stravinsky’s morality tale for dancers, actors and musicians was recorded in tandem with a production by Pamela Berlin at the Virginia Arts Festival last year. For UK listeners it might seem a bit un starry for a work that has always attracted big-name actors, among them John Gielgud, Tom Courtenay and Vanessa Redgrave for recordings in English, and Jean Cocteau and Gérard Depardieu in French. But Fred Child, who narrates the piece here, is the popular presenter of a well-known classical music radio show in the USA, while Jared McGuire (the Soldier) and Jeff Biehl (the Devil), both members of New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, have distinguished Stateside stage careers.
It’s a fine performance all round, in fact. Ensemble values are high, with actors and instrumentalists nicely integrated and a strong sense of give and take that reflects the recording’s theatrical origins. Violinist Tianwa Yang is dexterous but unshowy in her all-important solos, but there’s never any sense of her attempting to upstage the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players, all of whom are very much her match in terms of virtuoso refinement. Conductor JoAnn Falletta steers the work more towards sophisticated cabaret than creepy folk tale: we’re very conscious here of its monetarist satire and of the flashes forward, dramatically and musically, to The Rake’s Progress.
Michael Flanders and Kitty Black’s translation is used, which Berlin has tweaked into American English in places. Child sounds very knowing and coolly ironic. McGuire negotiates the thin dividing line between appealing innocence and impetuous stupidity impeccably, while Biehl, avoiding caricature in his various disguises, is all insidious charm and seductive malevolence. I have a soft spot for Shlomo Mintz’s French-language version on Naïve, with Gérard and Guillaume Depardieu, father and son, outstanding as Devil and Soldier respectively. But this is certainly a contender if you prefer the piece in English, and an attractive bargain to boot.