Friday, October 12, 2012

Montage # 75 - Birthday/Anniversaire: Igor Stravinsky

As of November 16, 2012, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address / A compter du 16 novembre 2012, ce montage ne sera plus disponible en baladodiffusion Pod-O-Matic. Il peut être téléchargé ou entendu au site Internet Archive à l'adresse suivante:

pcast075- Playlist

===================================================================== English Commentary – le commentaire français suit

Continuing our birthdays theme, Igor Stravinsky would have turned 130 this year. However, our musical selections this week have to do with more than just Stravinsky’s birthday, but also celebrates something of an undertaking and achievement, some 50 years ago.

Igor Stravinsky found recordings a practical and useful tool in preserving his thoughts on the interpretation of his music. As a conductor of his own music, he recorded primarily for Columbia Records, beginning in 1928 with a performance of the original suite from The Firebird and concluding in 1967 with the 1945 suite from the same ballet.

“In Honor of Igor Stravinsky's 80th Birthday”, Columbia Masterworks and the composer embarked in an ambitious project, that of recording all of his works for small ensemble and orchestra, either conducted by or performed under the personal supervision of Stravinsky himself. Considering the composer’s relatively advanced age, one would have expected this to be too ambitious. However, as this video documentary attests, Stravinsky was more than up to it, he is totally absorbed by the task, working diligently at this performance of L’histoire du soldat:

A great number of “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” albums were issued in the five year period between 1962 and 1967 – most of these (for convenience, probably) were done in Los Angeles using a pick-up orchestra that was simply called “the Columbia Synphony”. The same monicker is attributed to similar no-name pick-ups in New-York and elsewhere. Stravinsky also did quite a few of these recordings in Toronto with the CBC Symphony Orchestra (an amalgam of musicians from the CBC house orchestra, Toronto Symphony and Canadian Opera Company orchestras). Steven Staryk (who either was already or was soon to be the concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic) was the concertmaster for most of these recordings, and related in interviews that Stravinsky was a “constant tinkerer”, and that musicians all had pencils at their music stands, ready to annotate their scores with Stravinsky’s latest on-the-fly adjustments of the score.

As you would expect it, the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” recordings found their way ointo the digital catalogue of Sony Masterworks, and I retained some recordings with the CBC Symphony and the Columbia Symphony. Here are a few random musings on these performances.

The Scherzo Fantastique is an early Stravinsky composition, betraying the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian greats of the late 19th century. Under the laquer of this very Russian romantic work, we can already hear the early rumblings of the dissonance that will be Stravinsky’s hallmark.

For the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 50th anniversary, Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, Gershwin's Second Rhapsody, Prokofiev's Symphony No. 4 (which Prokofiev later revised), Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass, and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, among others. The Symphony of Psalms (along with the Symphony and C and Symophony in three movements) constitute the essence of Stravinsky’s exploration of the Symphonic genre, but also represents one of the few works he wrote with a sacred consonance. This performance of the Symphony has the additional input and insight of the great Dr. Elmer Iseler, one of Canada’s foremost choral conductors.

A couple of weeks ago, I featured Benny Goodman ias a classical clarinetist, and here he is again working with Stravinsky on one of his few jazz-inspired works, the Ebony concerto for clarinet and jazz band. The work was originally commissioned (and premiered) by Woordy Herman, but Goodman makes the work his own in this fine collaboration.

Among my prized vinyl records, I owned one of the Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky albums – his recording of the original 1910 Firebird, and I remember vividly the jacket which had a sketch of some of the costumes of the original Ballets Russes production, and Stravinsky’s own recollections in the back.

Indeed, Stravinslky (like, among others, Michael Tilson-Thomas and Charles Dutoit) swear by the original 1910 score of the work (rather than the revisions) and this is quite telling… Stravinsky goes on to admitting that The Firebird was the first piece he ever conducted publicly – at a Red Cross fundraiser in Switzerland (where he emigrated after WW I) and that he felt quite intimidated by the experience. Decades later, Stravinsky delivers what is certainly the best performance I have ever heard of this score. If you pat close attention about 2/3 of the way through the performance, you will hear Stravinslky turning the page of his score (it was quite loud on the vinyl, somewhat subdued here yet still present). A blemish to some, but such a human moment…

I think you will love this music too!

Commentaire français

Igor Stravinski aurait célébré son 130e anivbersaire de naissance cette année - une bonne raison de présenter un échantillon de ses oeuvres..

Toutefois, on se doit de souligner que pour ses 80 ans, M. Stravinski accepte de participer dans un projet d'envergure pour la maison Columbia: enregistrer toutes ses oeuvres pour orchestre et pour petits groupes, soit sous la baguette ou la supervision de Stravinski lui-même.

A 80 ans, on pourrait douter de l'énergie et de l'entrain du compositeur - octagénaire ou non, c'est un Stravinski attentif et tout  à fait engagé dans toutes les facettes du processus à qui on fait affaire ici. Le clip intégré au commentarire anglais ci-haut est une excellente vignette de ce projet - travaillant l'histoire du soldat

Stravinski collaborara avec des musiciens locaux dans un ensemble qu'on baptise pour l'occasion Columbia Symphony (ou Columbia Jazz Band dans un cas). Dans le cas de deux des oeuvres que j'ai retenues, on le retrouve au Massey Hall de Toronto avec l'orchestre de Radio-Canada (aumenté pour l'occasion de membres du Totonro Symphony et autres musiciens professionnels). J'ai retrnu la Symnphonie des Psaumes et le Scherzo Fantastique - ine oeuvre de jeuness qui commence comme du Rimski mais r.vèle un Stravinski aux takents et dissonances bourgeonantes.

Avec Benny Goodman, on retrouve l'Ebony Coincerto, commandé par un rival de Goodman (Woody Herman) mais qu'il interprète avec flair et brio.

La pièce de résistance est l'intégrale du ballet l'Oiseau de Feu dans sa version originale. Une pièce fétiche pour Stravinski, étant la première qu'il dirigea en public. La perfoirmance est captée avec la technoologie stéréo de l'époque, mais reste une interprétation mémorable.

Bonne écoute!