Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky in rare and hard-to-find recordings
Filling the gaps in the Stravinsky discography - superb new transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
The present program might be called “The Uncollected Stravinsky”, as it brings together several items which have been left out of recent reissues of the composer’s recordings, mainly because they were done as “one-offs” for labels with which the composer did not usually record. We hear here his only recordings for Polydor, Telefunken and Keynote, as well as a French Columbia recording omitted in EMI’s “Composers in Person” series set devoted to Stravinsky.
If you have this CD and the Mozart download on this webpage, plus our two earlier CDs (the one with Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring and the Firebird Suite, the other with him conducting the suites from Petrushka and Pulcinella), plus the 57 disc Sony Stravinsky set, plus the two-CD EMI "Composers in Person" Stravinsky release, you will have all of the composer's commercial recordings. This new release fills in the rest of the gaps.
Stravinsky’s recording career began in 1925 with some piano solo recordings for the American Brunswick label which were never released. Three years later, he began an association with Columbia in Europe, recording in London and Paris regularly through 1934. The recording of L’histoire du soldat heard here dates from this period, and was made contemporaneously with the composer’s Octet, using many of the same players.
In 1935, after making what looked to be his last discs for Columbia, Stravinsky recorded his Violin Concerto for French Polydor in Paris. The soloist was the Polish-born, American-raised Samuel Dushkin, for whom the concerto was written. Before those sessions, Stravinsky and Dushkin had collaborated on a number of chamber recordings for Columbia, principally the Duo Concertant and assorted violin-piano arrangements of earlier Stravinsky works.
The composer returned to French Columbia one last time, on February 14th and 16th, 1938, for recordings with his son Soulima of his Concerto for Two Solo Pianos and its filler side, a Mozart Fugue. These were not first published until 1951 and are particular rarities in their original form. While the former was reissued in the EMI Stravinsky set, the latter was omitted. Since the present program is nearly at the maximum length for a CD, the Mozart is being made available as a free download on the Pristine webpage devoted to this release.
Three days after the two-piano sessions in Paris were completed, Stravinsky was in Berlin, recording his ballet score Jeu de cartes with the Philharmonic in his only discs for Telefunken. For the first time, the composer could be heard leading a world-class ensemble, recorded in state-of-the-art sound for the time, in warmly reverberant hall.
Stravinsky would not record again until April, 1940, when he began his long association with American Columbia with sessions in New York. Between what seemed to be his last session for Columbia in 1946 and his first in a four-year association with RCA Victor that started in September, 1947, the composer recorded his Dumbarton Oaks Concerto for the small, short-lived Keynote label with an ad-hoc group that included such top-rank players as Alexander Schneider and Bernard Greenhouse. The recording’s first LP appearance was on Mercury, but it has not had an “official” CD reissue on that label.
The sources for the transfers were first edition American Columbia “Royal Blue” shellac discs for L’histoire du soldat; Brunswick-Polydor discs pressed by American Columbia in their “Full-Range” period for the Violin Concerto; German Telefunken shellacs for Jeu de cartes; and the original Keynote 78s for Dumbarton Oaks. The webpage-only transfer of the Mozart Fugue came from a laminated French Columbia 78. Except for Jeu de cartes, all of the recordings were made in small, acoustically dry studios. I have chosen not to add artificial reverberation to these so as to preserve their original impact and detail.
STRAVINSKY L’histoire du soldat – Suite
Marcel Darrieux (violin); Emil Godeau (clarinet); Gustave Dhérin (bassoon);
Eugène Foveau (cornet); Raphaël Delbos (trombone);
Alphonse-Joseph “Boussagol” Delmas (double-bass); Jean-Paul Morel (percussion)
Recorded 6/7 May 1932 in the Studio Albert, Paris
Matrix nos.: WLX 1599-1, 1600-1, 1601-1, 1602-2, 1607-1 & 1608-2
First issued on Columbia LFX 263/5
STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D major
Samuel Dushkin violin
Recorded 28/29 October 1935 in Polydor Studio No. 2, Paris
Matrix nos.: 771½ GEP, 772 GEP, 768½ GEP, 767 GEP, 769 GEP & 770½ GEP
First issued on Polydor 566173/5
STRAVINSKY Jeu de cartes
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 19 & 21 February 1938 in the Singakademie, Berlin
Matrix nos.: 022884/9
First issued on Telefunken SK 2460/2
STRAVINSKY Dumbarton Oaks – Concerto for Chamber Orchestra in E-flat major
Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orchestra
Recorded 28 May 1947 in the Reeves Beaux Arts Studios, New York City
Matrix nos. KM-13/16
First issued in Keynote album DM-1
Igor Stravinsky conductor
Valuable for its sterling presentation of the Violin Concerto
Is it Histoire du soldat, or is it L’Histoire du soldat? That bit of trivia has been bugging me for months; some readers may suffer similar pangs. The usual reliable sources disagree, as do early published scores. So: Go to the manuscript! Not so simple: The work was written by Ramuz and Stravinsky in many pieces; apparently there is no single manuscript, but many, many sketches. They are assembled in Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat: A facsimile of the sketches, edited by Maureen A. Carr (A-R Editions, Inc, Middleton, Wisconsin, 2005). Two early sources are cited: C. F. Ramuz, Histoire du soldat, Editions des Cahiers Vaudois, June 1920; and Igor Stravinsky, C. F. Ramuz, Histoire du soldat, London, J. W. Chester, 1924.
Here is Stravinsky’s first monaural recording of each work. All appeared in Andante’s three 3-CD Stravinsky sets, which were considered superb transfers in their day. Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer of Histoire du soldat (1932) is perhaps a touch clearer than the Andante one, but his Violin Concerto (1935) is a startling improvement: cleaner, brighter, with less distortion than on Andante, and—best of all—brimming over with life and color. The vitality of Samuel Dushkin’s violin and of Stravinsky’s accompaniment becomes fully apparent. Who said he was a poor conductor? Criticism by members of the New York Philharmonic about his 1940 Le sacre du printemps may have been self-serving (we managed to make a great recording in spite of the lousy conductor).
Obert-Thorn’s recovery of detail does the Berlin Philharmonic no favors, exposing both inaccuracies and ineffectual playing in this once-famous recording of Jeu de Cartes. How odd that Hitler’s Berlin orchestra was recording Stravinsky in 1938! The “Third Deal” shows considerable distortion, which appears to a lesser extent on Andante, working perhaps from a cleaner source. The Dumbarton Oaks recording, played by a pick-up group named the Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orchestra on Keynote 78s, was very poor for 1947, including an unacceptable level of distortion. Neither Pristine nor Andante is able to make it pleasant listening.
This Pristine CD is valuable for its sterling presentation of the Violin Concerto. For the other three works, it does about as well as can be expected.
James H. North
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:1 (Sept/Oct 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.