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Friday, August 4, 2017

Igor Stravinsky - The Soldier's Tale (JoAnn Falletta)


Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • (01-12) The Soldier’s Tale: Part I
  • (13-29) The Soldier’s Tale: Part II

Tianwa Yang, violin
Fred Child, narrator
Jared McGuire, the soldier
Jeff Biehl, the devil
Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players
JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Date: 2016
Label: Naxos



This new version of Stravinsky’s morality tale for dancers, actors and musicians was recorded in tandem with a production by Pamela Berlin at the Virginia Arts Festival last year. For UK listeners it might seem a bit un starry for a work that has always attracted big-name actors, among them John Gielgud, Tom Courtenay and Vanessa Redgrave for recordings in English, and Jean Cocteau and Gérard Depardieu in French. But Fred Child, who narrates the piece here, is the popular presenter of a well-known classical music radio show in the USA, while Jared McGuire (the Soldier) and Jeff Biehl (the Devil), both members of New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, have distinguished Stateside stage careers.

It’s a fine performance all round, in fact. Ensemble values are high, with actors and instrumentalists nicely integrated and a strong sense of give and take that reflects the recording’s theatrical origins. Violinist Tianwa Yang is dexterous but unshowy in her all-important solos, but there’s never any sense of her attempting to upstage the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players, all of whom are very much her match in terms of virtuoso refinement. Conductor JoAnn Falletta steers the work more towards sophisticated cabaret than creepy folk tale: we’re very conscious here of its monetarist satire and of the flashes forward, dramatically and musically, to The Rake’s Progress.

Michael Flanders and Kitty Black’s translation is used, which Berlin has tweaked into American English in places. Child sounds very knowing and coolly ironic. McGuire negotiates the thin dividing line between appealing innocence and impetuous stupidity impeccably, while Biehl, avoiding caricature in his various disguises, is all insidious charm and seductive malevolence. I have a soft spot for Shlomo Mintz’s French-language version on Naïve, with Gérard and Guillaume Depardieu, father and son, outstanding as Devil and Soldier respectively. But this is certainly a contender if you prefer the piece in English, and an attractive bargain to boot.

-- Tim Ashley, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: *** / RECORDING: ****


Igor Stravinsky (17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. His output is typically divided into three general style periods: a Russian period, a neoclassical period, and a serial period.


JoAnn Falletta (born February 27, 1954 in New York) is an American classical musician and orchestral conductor best known as music directors of the Virginia Symphony (since 1991) and Buffalo Philharmonic orchestras (since 1999). She has also served as music director of the Long Beach Symphony and of the Women's Philharmonic Orchestra (San Francisco). Falletta has recorded over 70 albums. In 2011 she was appointed artistic director of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. Outside of the USA, Falletta was the 12th principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra (2011-2014).


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