STRAVINSKY The Soldier's Tale
Rock legend Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd and creator of The Wall, joins forces with players from Long Island’s Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival for this new version of Stravinsky’s cautionary tale, the third recording of the work released in as many months to mark the centenary of the premiere. The text, Waters’s own, is an extended adaptation of the English translation by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black. Largely faithful to its spirit, Waters keeps its rhythms, rhymes and half-rhymes but expands and frequently paraphrases both narration and dialogue.
The narrative is admirably clear and his additions contain some fine verbal flourishes. His Devil doesn’t just provide the Soldier with Havana cigars to smoke in his hideaway but proffers ‘Sobrani Black Russian, or perhaps, more exotic by far, / I believe we may still have an Egyptian hookah’. There are striking descriptions of the Devil’s appearance disguised as an old woman, ‘like a tinker in drag’, and of the royal palace astir at the arrival of the man who will cure the Princess of her mystery illness. The downside, however, is that Waters’s interpolations add a good 20 minutes to the standard running time and make the work seem unduly protracted and discursive.
His laid-back delivery of the text itself, meanwhile, doesn’t always help, I’m afraid. His lived-in, gravelly voice makes him a worldly-wise, wryly ironic Narrator, though his northern-accented Soldier, nicely contrasted with the Cockney Ex Soldier who persuades him to woo the Princess, could do with a bit more anger and frustration as awareness of the Devil’s machinations sinks in. Some might find his adoption of a German accent for the Devil himself questionable, though it’s clear he has great fun doing it.
Playing without a conductor, the Bridgehampton musicians are excellent. Ensemble is carefully focused, solos beautifully done. Slowish speeds make the Pastorale sound wistfully poignant. The Royal March is very flamboyant and the Princess’s dances have a sinewy grace. Made in Bridgehampton’s Presbyterian Church, the recording is immaculately balanced, though sound effects have been added: we hear the tramp of the Soldier’s feet on gravel; church bells and cawing rooks greet his return to his village; and an ominous electronic rumble presages the final catastrophe. It’s not as good as Malcolm Sinclair and Roman Simovic’s wonderfully taut LSO Live version (A/18), but Waters’s presence will doubtless draw many new listeners to the work itself, which can only be good news.