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Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite - Weilerstein

Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite - Weilerstein

MDG Gold  904 1955-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite; Apollon musagète; Concerto in D

Orchestre de Chambre de Lausannne
Joshua Weilerstein (conductor)


Sensational Start
Igor Stravinsky inaugurated the era of musical neoclassicism with a sensational success. His Pulcinella continues to be uncommonly popular even today, primarily as a suite from the ballet of the same name – which makes this virtuosic orchestral piece the perfect choice for this fascinating MDG début program featuring Joshua Weilerstein, the new principal conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. Apollon musagète and the rarely heard Concerto in D offer additional highly interesting insights into this important period in the great Russian composer’s oeuvre.

Apollonian Clarity
Apollonian clarity was Stravinsky’s aim in the ballet music for Apollon musagète. Simple tonal motifs, violins feasting on harmonic thirds, and the intelligent scoring solely for string orchestra: Apollo, the guide of the Muses, remains true to his calling right up to the top of Mount Parnassus. From time to time, a bit of compositional irony seems to poke a little fun at the world of ancient myth.

Avant-garde Complexity
Stravinsky wrote the Concerto in D for the Basel Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble that became one of the twentieth century’s outstanding orchestras under Paul Sacher, its legendary director and a generous patron of the musical avant-garde. This three-movement work challenges each and every string orchestra and repeatedly offers the musicians the opportunity to engage in solo playing. Rhythmically complex and tonally demanding, the concerto already anticipates the end of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period.

Success Story
With Joshua Weilerstein the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne has truly passed the torch to a new generation. The young conductor follows in big footsteps, but continuity on the highest level is also a sure bet: after the pianist Christian Zacharias another outstanding instrumentalist, this time a violinist, has assumed the conducting duties with this renowned Swiss orchestra.

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Review by Graham Williams - May 14, 2016

Joshua Weilerstein, the conductor on this splendid SACD of three of Stravinsky's most attractive and accessible neo-classical works, is a member of a talented musical family that includes his sister the distinguished cellist Alisa Weilenstein. Here he directs the fine Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, whose Artistic Director he became in 2015/2016, and on the basis of these lithe and invigorating performances his is definitely a name to watch.

From the opening bars of the familiar suite from Stravinsky's 'Pulcinella' it is clear that even when judged by MDG's usual high standards, the sound quality on this disc is outstanding. The many solo instrumental passages in the opening Sinfonia are clearly defined within the warm acoustic of the (unnamed) recording venue. The bass line is notably firm and the balance between the mellow winds and the strings is excellent. The witty duet between double bass and rasping trombone in the 'Vivo' especially benefits from the transparency of the recorded sound. Weilenstein's tempi for each of the ten movements of Stravinsky's sparkling and idiosyncratic recreation of 18th century music are very well judged allowing room for expressive playing from his orchestra.

The ballet 'Apollon Musagète' written for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes has received many fine recordings over the years stretching back to those conducted by the composer himself. Weilerstein's account stresses the warmth and lyricism of the music aided by some of the most ravishing string sound that I have encountered on disc for some time. The ensemble playing throughout is nimble and athletic while the solos are both delicately nuanced and breathtakingly beautiful. However, those seeking a more austere approach to the music should perhaps look elsewhere.

Stravinsky composed his 'Concerto in D Major for String Orchestra' in 1946. It was commissioned to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Paul Sacher's Basler Chamber Orchestra and represented the composer's first European commission following his emigration to the United States. It has the three-movement design (fast-slow-fast) of a Baroque concerto grosso and like Apollon Musagète the writing is transparent and cool. The outer fast movements bristle with nervous energy while the melodic central 'Arioso' is graceful and poised, but spiced with piquant dissonances. The Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne play this tricky and surprisingly neglected piece with great virtuosity and tonal beauty.

Given Weilenstein's persuasive performances and the beautifully open and wide ranging multi-channel recording, this SACD can be recommended with confidence.

Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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