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Stravinsky: Pulcinella, Etc / Schwarz, Seattle Symphony

Stravinsky / Graham / Seattle Sym / Schwarz
Release Date: 12/18/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8571224   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Susan GrahamGran WilsonJan Opalach
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STRAVINSKY Pulcinella. 1 Scherzo Fantastique Gerard Schwarz, cond; 1 Susan Graham (mez); 1 Gran Wilson (ten); 1 Jan Opelach (bs-bar); Seattle SO NAXOS 8.571224 (54:25)

These splendid recordings, originally released in 1988 and 1990 by Delos, are herewith restored to the Read more catalog. I for one am glad to have them. Readers of my reviews know that I’m not a consistent fan of Schwarz, who I’ve always felt was “the girl with the curl”—when he’s good he’s great, when he’s not he falls flat. This is one of the “curl” recordings, mostly excellent in both conception and execution. Pulcinella, which in a sense was Stravinsky’s first neoclassical work (1920), was essentially his rewrite of Italian Baroque music (including Parisottii’s “Se tu m’ami,” attributed at the time to Pergolesi) similar to his rewriting of Tchaikovsky in the later Le Baiser de la Fée which is even better. Since we’re not really overwhelmed with recordings of Pulcinella (26 compared to 70 for Firebird, more than 100 for Petrouchka and over 200 for Le Sacre du Printemps ), it’s always good to have another in the fold.

This one scores particularly well due to the vocal soloists, a rarity not only for a Stravinsky ballet but for ballets in general. The singers in the Marriner (EMI), Hogwood (Hänssler), Boulez (CSO), and Craft (Naxos) recordings all have weaknesses in one of the three parts. Here, Graham, Wilson, and Opelach are simply superb, not only in their solo turns but particularly when they sing together, as their vocal blend is first-rate. Despite Naxos’s tendency to swathe its recordings in reverb, the crispness of Schwarz’s conducting and Stravinsky’s unusual orchestral textures come through marvelously. Granted, some of those other recordings, and the Pulcinella Suite recorded by Otto Klemperer, have more color in the playing, but to my ears the slightly starker orchestral quality of this release is appropriately Stravinskian. My lone complaint is an occasional lack of dynamic contrast in various sections, but it’s difficult to argue with the overall results.

The original Delos issue of Pulcinella was coupled with Sacre du Printemps, but here it’s replaced by the much briefer Scherzo fantastique, an early work (1907-08) written when the composer was still studying with Rimsky-Korsakov. Ironically, the score attributed it as being inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of Bees, which led to copyright problems when it was staged at the Paris Opéra a decade later with specific reference to the author. The music is typical early Stravinsky, rhythmic and colorful but in a more conventional way than his post- Firebird scores. The bottom line, of course, is that if you already have one of the other recordings of Pulcinella and are satisfied with it, you don’t need this recording, but if you’re looking for a fine, relatively inexpensive version of Pulcinella, this is the place to go.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Pulcinella by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Susan Graham (Soprano), Gran Wilson (Tenor), Jan Opalach (Bass)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Switzerland 
Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3 by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Gran Wilson (Tenor), Susan Graham (Soprano), Jan Opalach (Bass)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; Russia 
Date of Recording: 4/1988 
Venue:  Seattle Opera House, Seattle, Washington 

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