Pulcinella. The Fairy’s Kiss
with Diana Montague: mezzosoprano, Robin Leggate: tenor, Mark Beesley: bass
Philharmonia Orchestra (Pulcinella)
London Symphony Orchestra (The Fairy’s Kiss)
Robert Craft, conductor
Naxos, 1997 (2006)
This album released by Naxos collects two interesting and nice ballets by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss), performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra under the wonderful conduction of Robert Craft.
The only link between Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss is that they take their musical materials from works of other composers – but, if this contribution is relevant in Pulcinella, it is reduced to a mere inspiration in The Fairy’s Kiss.
The composition history of Pulcinella is based on a misunderstanding. It is true that the plot is based on an XVIII century play with characters taken from the Commedia dell’Arte, but not that the music was written by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, as it was thought at the time of its first performance, given in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1920. The truth is that fewer than half of the pieces were originally written by Pergolesi and they belong to less known composers contemporary to him, as Domenico Gallo (the material comes from his trio sonatas), Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, Carlo Ignazio Monza and Alessandro Parisotti (Se tu m’ami). Stravinsky rewrote the XVIII century music in a more modern way, but it is the instrumentation alone that distinguishes the new version from the old, since no significant change has been made in the original musical texture.
It is The Fairy’s Kiss, composed in 1928 (and revised in 1950) on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ice Maiden, that presents a greater re-elaboration of early piano music and songs by Tchaikovsky, in a freer way than with the pseudo-Pergolesi music of Pulcinella. The Fairy’s Kiss is a heartfelt homage to Tchaikovsky, who is to be recognized as the young man of the plot, while the Fairy is his muse. As a ballet, The Fairy’s Kiss is rarely performed.
Robert Craft had a long, working friendship with Stravinsky. He collaborated with the composer on seven book, directed some world premieres of Stravinsky’s later works (as In Memoriam Dylan Thomas and Requiem Canticles) and had recorded almost all of Stravinsky’s works. This valuable experience is easily perceptible in this recording and you have immediately the impression that Craft knows this music very well. His conduction is superlative in its precision and charming in its inventiveness, which allows him to give prominence to the different features of Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss. Every piece is a carefully balanced moment of beauty and perfection. The conductor’s ideas are perfectly supported the two orchestras and the singers (the best among them is Diana Montague, while Robin Leggate and Mark Beesley have an old pitch and sound strange to me).