Finding Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, and Maurice Ravel side-by-side on a CD is a little unusual, but it shouldn't be surprising if it's Volume 6 in Haenssler's diverse series Diaghilev--Les Ballets Russes. Considering that Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Feu d'artifice, and Strauss' Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche were staged as ballets by Sergei Diaghilev, and that Ravel's La Valse was planned for performance with Pulcinella but ultimately rejected by the impresario, all these works share the dance impulse, as well as a connection with the early 20th century's most influential modern dance company. Yet a problem with this series is the variability of performances, and listeners are not always treated to the most desirable recordings. The SWR Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden and Freiburg performs with distinction in all four works, though Christopher Hogwood presents Pulcinella and Sylvain Cambreling offers readings of Feu d'artifice, Till Eulenspiegel, and La Valse that make this disc feel a little uneven and difficult to absorb in one sitting. Stylistically, this is to be expected, for each work comes from a different musical tradition, whether Italian, Russian, German, or French, and represents an aspect of late Romantic or modern music that is to some extent at odds with the others. But while Hogwood's performance of Pulcinella is mostly bright, crisp, and uptempo, befitting its neo-classical style, it sometimes hits pockets of sluggishness and dullness. Furthermore, Cambreling's renditions are in softer focus, suggestive of quasi-impressionist interpretations, and tend toward a more homogenous orchestral blend, which is blurred somewhat in the highly resonant ambient acoustic. Fans of the Ballets Russes' extraordinary history will find this disc enlightening and will likely collect the entire series, but anyone who wants just one piece above the rest is advised to seek out other recordings of these popular works.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Pulcinella, ballet with three solo voices after Giovanni Battista Pergolesi|
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, after the old rogue's tale, set in rondo form for large orchestra, Op. 28