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Mythical Dances - Stravinsky, Crumb / Belli Piano Duo

Release Date: 08/12/2008 
Label:  Wergo   Catalog #: 6807   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Igor StravinskyGeorge Crumb
Performer:  Olivia BelliEnrico Belli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Belli Piano Duo
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STRAVINSKY Le sacre du printemps. CRUMB Makrokosmos IV Belli Pn Duo WERGO 6807 (58:06)

I mentioned this disc in passing in my interview article with Enrico Belli ( Fanfare 31:4). It gives me great pleasure to report that the Stravinsky/Crumb combo is every bit as stimulating as the Debussy/Crumb was. Here, Enrico Belli is joined by Olivia Belli.

Crumb’s Read more Makrokosmos IV (1979), subtitled “Celestial Mechanics,” consists of four pieces and is further referred to as, “Cosmic Dances for amplified piano, four hands.” The inspiration for the fourth volume was the five-volume study of celestial mechanics by the French mathematician/philosopher Pierre-Simon Laplace. The piece we hear first, “Alpha Centauri,” begins with an appoggiatura-based gesture that shows close links to similar gestures in the Stravinsky. Crumb’s sound palette is wide-ranging, yet primarily austere. Rhythmically, there is a timeless quality to the music that enables the opening strand of Le sacre to emerge seemingly inevitably out of its close.

Helpfully, Wergo has tracked each section of Le sacre individually. Hearing the work in its piano duet arrangement is especially effective in the current context, for one’s ear keeps making connections between the Stravinsky and the Crumb—the light wash of sound immediately before the onset of “Augures printaniers” is a case in point, where the otherworldliness is identifiable but momentary. The famous repeated chords of “Augures” bring us back to Stravinsky in no uncertain fashion. Of course, it is here that one inevitably misses the heft of a full symphony orchestra (the 1975 LSO/Abbado, currently available on two DG reissues, points to just how upfront this section really can be). The Belli Duo brings true mystery to “Rondes printannières” without any unnecessary blurring of textures; lines are again delivered with X-ray clarity towards the end of part I (“Danse de la terre”).

The ephemeral gestures of Crumb’s “Beta Cygni” set the tone for an elusive piece that seems almost to wish to deny the existence of the instrument it utilizes. When we hear sounds produced traditionally (i.e., by the pressing of a key), one experiences a sort of “colored familiarity.” “Gamma Draconis” similarly utilizes washes of sound from strummed piano strings and grows to a wild dance. This frenzy, both real and implied, closely mirrors the basis of the Stravinsky. Here, the piano’s sound is altered to include a silvery tinge that certainly seems to speak of other worlds.

The opening moments of part II of Le sacre inevitably lose some of their timbral magic in translation to keyboard, but the musical hypnosis remains intact, as does the contrast of this passage with “Glorification de l’élue.” The Belli Piano Duo’s virtuosity comes to the fore in the final “Danse sacrale,” even managing to imply orgiastic hysteria at one point.

How does one follow Le sacre ? In concert, encores inevitably fall flat on their faces; but here the final Crumb, “Delta Orionis,” seems both natural and an extension of the Stravinsky to new, hitherto unexplored directions. The earthiness of a primordial rite meets music of the heavens. Surrounding Le sacre with Crumb as well as inserting music between the work’s two parts sheds new light on a work that so many people claim to know so well.

Andrea Lambertucci’s sound recording is exemplary in its clarity and distancing; Richard Whitehouse’s notes are as informed and illuminating as ever from this source. Urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

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Works on This Recording

Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Olivia Belli (Piano), Enrico Belli (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Belli Piano Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1913 
Notes: Composition written: Switzerland (1911 - 1913).
Composition revised: USA (1943). 
Celestial Mechanics "Makrokosmos no 4" by George Crumb
Performer:  Enrico Belli (Piano), Olivia Belli (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Belli Piano Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; United States 

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