Stravinsky

Chant Funèbre (world premiere recording)

Le Sacre du Printemps

with Sophie Koch, mezzosoprano (Le Faune et la Bergère)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Decca, 2018

After Igor Stravinsky’s Chant funèbre had its modern premiere at the Mariisky Theatre in St Petersburg in 2016 under Valery Gergiev’s conduction, the time has come for the release of its world premiere recording. The honour went to Riccardo Chailly who, with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, included the work in the programme of a concert held in Luzern (Switzerland) in August 2017.

Apart from Chant funèbre, this recording comprises four other works composed by Stravinsky: three short works (Feu d’artifice, Scherzo fantastique and Le Faune et la Bergère) and the popular Le Sacre du Printemps.

Chant funèbre

Of course the main reason of interest of this recording is Chant funèbre (Funeral Song or, in Russian, Pogrebalnaya pesnya). Stravinsky composed this work in memory of his teacher Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, who had passed away in June 1908. It premiered at a memorial concert in St Petersburg in January 1909. After that, Chant funèbre disappeared. It was only in 2015 and by chance that all the fifty-eight orchestral parts have been rediscovered in the St Petesburg Conservatoire, where it was preserved by accident.

Chant funèbre is appropriately the first piece of the present recording. This early work is not interesting in itself, but it throws a new light on the young composer’s style. Stravinsky did not have found his own path at this stage of his career. The influence of Tchaikovsky and other composers is clearly manifest. Moreover, although not original, Chant funèbre is quite effective, or at least Riccardo Chailly manages to make it appear like this.

In this performance, the beginning of Chant funèbre is gloomy, insistently funereal, as it is predictable with a work like this. Little by little, it becomes less sombre, even though in the end the “farewell” is still sad. What is noteworthy is Chailly’s painstaking development of moods. The sad beginning, the middle section with its lyricism and even tenderness (perhaps due to remembrance) and finally the consolatory ending are represented with extreme finesse. Even though the work itself is not a gem, Chailly’s rendition is definitely worth the listening.

Feu d’artifice, Scherzo fantastique, Le Faune et la Bergère

The other works are more familiar. Feu d’artifice, Op.4, is a completely different matter in comparison with Chant funèbre. This is a short work where the orchestral colours sparkle and are extremely vivid and transparent. The best thing is that Chailly uses the ephemeral sound of the orchestra to convey the idea of the sudden flickering and equally immediate extinguishing of the fireworks. While Feu d’artifice is drawing to an end, Chailly opts for a tight rhythm and the orchestral sound becomes animated and vivacious.

In the Scherzo fantastique, irony and magic are the two main elements with which Chailly characterizes the piece, together with lyricism and an amusing sense of wonder.

Le Faune et la Bergère is the chance to represent another world again. This time, Chailly is guided by the use of panic materials. Overall, the work has all the characters of an Arcadian evocation. Mezzosoprano Sophie Koch sings quite well and with energy, though her voice is not particularly beautiful.

Le Sacre du Printemps

If Chant funèbre is the most intriguing piece of this collection, Le Sacre du Printemps is definitely the most significant. This is not only the longest work, but it is a new recording after the one Chailly made in the Eighties with the Cleveland Orchestra.

The new recording is remarkable for Chailly’s firmness and vigour. The alternation between energy and expectation is well represented and balanced. The style is dry and concise and the entire work seems to express a telluric force. Many nuances embellish the music, from the dark in the Rondes printanières to evocative passages as in the Introduction to the first part. Overall, Le Sacre du Printemps appears as carved in the rock.

Conclusion

Chailly’s outstanding personality and the fine Lucerne Festival Orchestra shed lustre to this album. The world premiere recording of Chant funèbre, the variety of the three short pieces and the always winning presence of Le Sacre du Printemps are the starting point for one of the finest recordings of Stravinsky’s works.

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