Robert Craft

Stravinsky: Duo Concertant

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The Naxos label has earned justifiable praise for its ongoing series of Stravinsky recordings under Robert Craft, the conductor who introduced a good deal Stravinsky's music to the public. He also introduced much of the music of the Second Viennese School to Stravinsky, who was persuaded to jump onto the serialist bandwagon late in life. Craft's rather dry, deliberate readings quite resemble those in the Stravinsky recordings he made in the 1950s and 1960s, and the general level of craft achieved by a conductor aged 85. This said, the program here has an odds-and-ends feel, mixing neo-classic works from the 1930s and 1940s and serialist works from the 1960s that have been part of the textbooks ever since, but have never really held the concert stage. The chief attraction, given large print on the packaging, is the Duo Concertante for violin and piano, composed in 1932 and evidencing a typically tense relationship with classical forms. The violin and piano trade places in the dominant role several times over the course of the work, and Stravinsky also introduces rhythmic shifts that seem to approach the metrical modulation technique from later in the 20th century. One gets the feeling that the piece, although firmly in the main line of Stravinskian neo-classicism, suggests experimental ideas that the composer never fully developed. It's not clear what Craft's contribution to the chamber performances on the album might have been. Another unusual find here is the Bluebird Pas de deux, an arrangement of a passage from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty with the very Stravinskian addition of a piano. The Sonata for two pianos (1944) is a less imposing work than might be imagined, having been pieced together from several projects underway during Stravinsky's first years in the U.S. The Requiem Canticles (1966) and Abraham and Isaac, a sacred ballad for baritone and chamber orchestra (1963) are prime examples of Stravinsky's late-life attempt to mold serialism to his own style, often with religious content. They're rather ponderous works, although with the composer's characteristic economy, and the listener is required to make quite a lurch from the rest of the program. Still, one feels that Craft is especially at home here with his deliberate, precise style. Craft's series may be aimed primarily at longtime Stravinsky buffs, but they will find many items of interest here.

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