STRAVINSKY The Soldier's Tale (Simovic)
The actor Malcolm Sinclair joins seven players from the LSO for this striking new recording of Stravinsky’s cautionary tale, directed from the leader’s chair by Roman Simovic. It’s compelling and virtuoso, if very austere. Given its rhythmic complexity, performing the work without a conductor can be tricky, but the ensemble is superbly taut here, exacting yet fierce in its precision and clarity. None of the players attempts to hog the limelight and their bravura solos, all impeccably done, are seamlessly integrated into the whole. Simovic steadily maintains the dramatic pressure – there’s no danger of things becoming episodic – and sounds very suave in the sequence of dances with which the Soldier woos the Princess. We’re really aware of the score’s pivotal nature here as well, in the echoes of The Rite of Spring in the Pastorale, the glances at jazz and the flashes forwards to The Rake’s Progress.
There’s a comparable sharpness of focus to Sinclair’s narration, too, where the satirical element is strongly to the fore. Using Michael Flanders and Kitty Black’s familiar English version, he views the text as being as much about class as about money, pitting a proletarian Soldier against a bourgeois Devil, whose cut-glass accent is common to each of his successive incarnations, and, in so doing, reminds us of the work’s closeness to the didactic parables of Brechtian theatre. It all adds up to a wholly admirable interpretation, serious, hard-hitting and provocative, if occasionally short on humour. It won’t, I suspect, be to everyone’s taste, and some may prefer the less abrasive approach of JoAnn Falletta’s fine English-language Naxos recording, derived from a staging at the 2015 Virginia Arts Festival. Shlomo Mintz’s Naïve version, with Gérard and Guillaume Depardieu as the Soldier and the Devil respectively, is probably your best bet if you prefer the text in the original French.