Stravinsky: Violin Concerto; Zvezdolikiy: Cantata for Male Chorus & Orchestra; Symphonies of Wind Instruments; The Rite of Spring. Robert Craft conducting Jennifer Frautschi, violin, with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Concerto); Gregg Smith Singers with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (Zvezdolikiy); Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble (Symphonies); Philharmonia Orchestra (Rite).
Ma Sicong: Music for Violin and Piano, Volume 1: Dragon Lantern Dance; Mountain Song; Madrigal; Inner Mongolia Suite; Lullaby; Lantern Festival Dance; Amei Suite; Rondo No. 1; Tone Poem of Tibet. Hsiao-mei Ku, violin; Ning Lu, piano.
The very different development of music in the Occidental and Oriental worlds – and some surprising parallels between them – emerge from two excellent Naxos series, of which one is ongoing and the other has just begun. The Robert Craft Collection continues to offer superb performances – definitive in their own way, as Stravinsky’s own readings were in his – of both familiar and less-familiar Stravinsky works. The latest CD in the series showcases a very well-played Violin Concerto, a notoriously difficult work in which the soloist rarely gets a chance to pause and stretch his or her fingers (there is no rest at all in the third movement and few chances for repose elsewhere). This 1931 work moves effectively from its opening-movement march, through two lyrical movements marked Aria I and Aria II, to a presto finale (designated Capriccio) that concludes in a burst of excitement in which both Jennifer Frautschi and the orchestra fully participate. In strong contrast is the little-known Zvezdolikiy (“The Star-Faced One”), a setting of a Symbolist poem of rather surrealistic piety. This work has little of what is nowadays considered the Stravinsky sound, being slow throughout and without strong rhythms. It is in part a homage to Debussy, whose music is quoted toward the end, and indeed sounds like a tribute.
More often heard – although not necessarily in these versions – are Symphonies of Wind Instruments and The Rite of Spring. Robert Craft conducts the original and very difficult 1920 version of the Symphonies, which Stravinsky rewrote and simplified in 1947. The work is considerably more impressive in its earlier form, which was greeted with hostility at no fewer than six premieres (in
Of course, the most famous hostile premiere of a Stravinsky work was that accorded The Rite of Spring in
Stravinsky is as important in 20th-century Western music as Ma Sicong, who is far less known in the West, is in 20th-century Chinese music. Ma (1912-1987) pioneered the use of folk music within classical style, and was especially well-regarded for his violin music. The first release in a new
The latest piece on this CD, Amei Suite, dates to 1981 and includes five short movements whose moods range mostly from thoughtful to gentle; it ends with a dance in irregular rhythms. Rondo No. 1 is light and scurrying, filled with speedy figurations and ending in the minor. The final and longest work on the CD is Tone Poem of Tibet, which includes three substantial movements. “Legend Telling” starts with rumbles in the piano and becomes serious and episodic; “Lamasery” is stoic and slow-paced, sounding as if its emotion is held firmly in check; and “Sword Dance,” which includes fast and lyrical sections, is a showpiece for multiple bow techniques – all of which Ku puts effectively on display. Ma’s music on this disc is, on the whole, pleasant and unpretentious, and stands (to Western ears) in strong contrast to the sort of 20th-century classical fare that is more often played.