Stravinsky – Works for piano and orchestra

Featured recording: Stravinsky – Works for piano and orchestra (Chandos)

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, a specialist in 20th century piano music, teams up with conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra to present Stravinsky’s complete music for piano and orchestra. Happily this includes the wonderful Petrouchka!

What’s the music like?

Stravinsky was not a piano virtuoso in the way fellow Russians Rachmaninov and Prokofiev were, but he developed his own distinctive style of writing for the instrument.

This new collection from Chandos brings together some of the grittier works for the combination with functional titles – Movements, Capriccio, Concerto for piano and wind) with the dazzling colours of his second ballet Petrouchka. For this Bavouzet had to adapt his own routine as a soloist to go and sit in the orchestra.

Stravinsky writes with little sentiment when using the piano, and Movements, the Capriccio and the Concerto all tend to explore the instrument as a form of percussion rather than outright lyrical content. So we get punchy syncopations, spicy chords and incisive rhythms, as a matter of course – but in some of the slower moments of the Concerto there is an unexpected depth of feeling when the piano is pitted with slow brass. The Capriccio, too, can sparkle in places, with some florid writing for the right hand that seems to derive from the Baroque period.

Petrouchka, on the other hand, is a riot of melody, a circus full of orchestral tricks, with brilliant, showy figures and thrilling mixes of colour.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. The ballet receives an ideal performance in vivid sound, its orchestral inventions caught by Tortelier with crisp ensemble, sudden moments of fragility and out-and-out duels between the instruments. This bright, invigorating music is ideally contrasted by the gritty Movements, with its terse musical language.

The performances of the Capriccio and Concerto are terrific, the former with some wonderfully exuberant outbursts and the former taking time for contemplation in its slow movement. That said, the moment when then piano barges into the conversation of the winds (1’33” into the disc) is the dramatic equal of anything in the ballet.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Stravinsky may be a grumpy old so and so at times in his music, but some of his finest invention is here!

Listen on Spotify

Bavouzet’s recordings are not on the streaming service yet, but samples from each track can be heard here

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