Stravinsky Works for Solo Piano-Martin Jones

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Stravinsky Works for Solo Piano-Martin Jones

  • Scherzo
  • Sonata
  • (4) Etudes
  • (The) Firebird
  • (Le) Chant du Rossignol, 'Song of the Nightingale'
  • Petrushka
  • Symphonies of Wind Instruments
  • Valse pour les enfants
  • Ragtime
  • Piano-Rag Music
  • Sonata for Piano
  • Serenade
  • Tango
  • Circus Polka

The completist in me recalls that there are authentic piano transcriptions of the Petrushka, The Rite of Spring and Firebird ballets (made, we are told, mainly for rehearsal purposes) and that anyone who is prepared to brave Guido Agosti’s cripplingly difficult arrangement of The Firebird’s “Infernal Dance”, “Berceuse” and “Finale” (the last-named making Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” sound like a mere bagatelle) or a busy solo-piano reworking of Le chant du rossignol might as well find a partner for the four-hand arrangements, go for broke and record everything. However, the music lover in me rather suspects that most collectors would be happy to leave it at the Piano-Rag Music, Tango, Circus Polka, Serenade in A, the Sonata and the Three Movements from “Petrushka” – in other words, the full run of Stravinsky’s mature piano music, which should fit neatly on to a single CD.
Martin Jones plays all these works with gusto, enthusiasm and an occasional – though by no means crucial – lack of finesse, but he also gives us a number of curios, not least the Scriabinesque Four Etudes, Op. 7 (not to be confused with the mature orchestral Etudes) and the half-hour Sonata in F sharp minor, with its palpable recollections of Glazunov (especially in the second movement), Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.
Stephen Walsh’s admirable notes remind us that the transcription of Le chant du rossignol was ‘probably’ by Arthur Lourie (no one seems to know for sure) – it in any case does scant justice to the versicoloured orchestral original – but that of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments definitely is by him and offers a striking realization of Stravinsky’s spare, post-Debussian textures and angrily compulsive rhythmic gestures. Jones does the piece proud though I will not pretend that he quite matches pianistically superior versions of the Petrushka movements (Pollini is an obvious first point of reference), but the two ragtime pieces (Piano-Rag Music and Ragtime) are admirably idiomatic. Perhaps the least characteristic piece on the set is a quizzical, elegantly crafted Scherzo of 1902, a likely outcome of Borodin’s influence and worlds removed from the wryly humorous Tango and the loudly rumbustious Circus Polka.
A useful collection then, vividly recorded and more comprehensive than Michel Beroff’s excellent two-disc set for EMI (which programmes the works with piano and orchestra rather than the non-Stravinsky transcriptions), but I would not advise taking it in large doses. Although Stravinsky set great store by the piano as a working tool, he was not a particularly ‘pianistic’ composer (except, perhaps, in the case of the Petrushka transcription) and his piano music does occasionally suggest more bone than flesh. The trick, for home listeners, is to mix and match with, say, Bartok or Prokofiev – composers who took full advantage of the instrument’s immense potential for tonal colouring, and who were themselves great pianists.'

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