Stravinsky: Three Greek Ballets is a release in Naxos' Robert Craft Collection, which at this point had added one new entry to Craft's discography in addition to repackaging older recordings made for Koch and MusicMasters; this is the fifth release in the latter category. Craft is perhaps the most reputable person in all of Stravinsky scholarship, and more than anyone else Craft has, in his books, helped break through the distant and icy persona of Stravinsky to reveal the driving creative force behind. However, Craft's recordings are admittedly a mixed bag. Craft has been through Stravinsky's entire repertoire at least twice, and his first cycle for CBS remains controversial owing to its inextricable mixing up with recordings accredited to the composer himself.
In the case of the second cycle, dating from the 1990s, critical appraisals of the Craft/Stravinsky series were not overwhelmingly enthusiastic the first time around and, at least in this volume, it is easy to see why. Apollo is a terrible recording of the work, indifferently made, dull, and flat -- like Daffy Duck run over by a steamroller. The dynamic range of the recording is so narrow one cannot believe it was made at Abbey Road! Although Stravinsky's own recordings of his works are roundly condemned in some circles, by comparison his Apollo, a mono effort made with the so-called RCA Victor Symphony in 1950, has elements of true sparkle and grace; this one just lays there. The other works, Agon and Orpheus, come off better than Apollo, but are still far from the being the best recorded versions available. The solo instruments in Agon are strident and the overall sound rather gritty; Orpheus is the one performance here that strikes close to the mark, although it appears that Esa-Pekka Salonen or Orpheus Chamber Ensemble might have landed their horseshoes a little closer to the pin than did Craft.
One advantage that this release has over all others is that it combines the three major ballets Stravinsky composed for George Balanchine into the same package. This has never been done before, even though the practice of coupling Stravinsky's first three ballets for Serge Diaghilev is a combination that goes back to the days of LPs. Perhaps forthcoming volumes in Naxos' Robert Craft Collection will bring performances that will be equal in quality to the level of scholarship that Craft brings to the table.