Two CDs for the price of one: an excellent souvenir of a canny composer.
Andrew McGregor 2010
Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto was premiered in 1931 by Samuel Dushkin, and given the rapport they’d established, Stravinsky was eager to cash-in on their new partnership – literally – by devising recitals of his music they could play together without the expense and complication of an orchestra and conductor, allowing Stravinsky to earn money as pianist as well as composer.
The solution was a new work – the Duo concertant – surrounded by crafty arrangements of the most tuneful numbers in Stravinsky’s ballets.
Anthony Marwood and Thomas Adès are a great fit: the intensely musical fiddle player at home in new concertos or classical chamber music, and Adès the uncompromising composer-pianist. They begin with the first Suite Stravinsky arranged from Pulcinella, based on pieces thought to be by Pergolesi (it’s the first version of what became Suite italienne, and they’ve added the Scherzino from the later version as an extra on the second disc). Immediately you can hear neo-baroque elegance balanced with brittle Stravinskian exuberance, both players investing the motor rhythms with unstoppable momentum; Adès bubbles boisterously along, while Marwood spins ethereal harmonics or injects stinging venom through a colourful variety of bow strokes.
The Air and Chinese March from Stravinsky’s opera The Nightingale are beautifully achieved, with the violin’s fluting song and delicate ornamentation staying effortlessly airborne, while the piano intrudes sudden bursts of muscular intensity, before subsiding into shimmering ripples.
The Duo concertant is a highlight; Marwood immaculately in tune whatever double stops, twists and turns Stravinsky throws at him, while Adès’s care with the separate strands of the piano part pay dividends. It can seem a cool, dry work, but emphatically not here.
The second disc is Stravinsky’s own selection of favourites from The Firebird, Petrushka and Mavra, and the substantial Divertimento he arranged from his deliciously affectionate homage to Tchaikovsky: The Fairy’s Kiss. The final item is a curiosity: a solo violin version of La Marseillaise that lasts barely a minute. Two CDs for the price of one, a fine recording, and an excellent souvenir of a canny composer, and two inspired duos, three-quarters of a century apart.