Déjà Review: this review was first published in February 2000 and the recording is still available.

stravinsky violin chandos

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Chanson Russe (from Mavra)
Dance Russe (from Petroushka)
Duo Concertant
Suite Italienne (from Pulcinella)
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
Julian Milford (piano)
Chandos CHAN9756 [70]

This is a really useful survey, conveniently bringing together most of Stravinsky’s music for violin and piano in one vibrantly played collection. It has strong competition from a similar Itzhak Perlman compilation, but Mordkovitch’s inclusion of the BalladPastorale and Danse Russe excluded from that EMI collection (CDM5 66061-2) gives her an edge. All that is missing are the arrangements from Firebird and The Nightingale which the violinist Samuel Dushkin and Stravinsky themselves recorded in 1933, plus the Elegy for violin or viola and that curious byway of Stravinskyana, his 1919 arrangement of The Marseillaise. Indeed at an overall timing of 70:44 there would well have been room for one or two further items to clinch Mordkovitch’s programme as the first recommendation.

There is some lovely playing here, brilliant in the virtuoso fast music, secure and gorgeously coloured in the more awkward slow passages. Indeed one only has to compare the opening of the Duo Concertant in Szigeti’s recording with the composer to have the feeling, momentarily at least, that Mordkovitch has the better grasp of the music.

Reservations may creep in if you have grown up with earlier recordings, particularly those from the 1930s made by the composer with Samuel Dushkin, for whom the music was largely written. If so, you may be used to rather purer more aristocratic, less up-front emotive playing, raising the question of what is an idiomatic style in Stravinsky’s violin music. In Chandos’s ripest recorded sound, Mordkovitch’s violin has a dramatic presence with splendidly resonant bite, which certainly makes for enjoyable listening. The trick is that different works respond to different treatment, and one only has to become immersed in the theatrical contrasts of the opening ‘Sinfonia’ from the Divertimento, and the vigour of the finale to the Suite Italienne, to appreciate the strengths of Mordkovitch’s artistry, though only her accompanist seems to realise the importance of a real hush in the quieter passages.

The case in point is the Duo Concertant where Mordkovitch and Milford add 2¼ minute to the composer’s timing with Dushkin. However, although generally faster, Stravinsky took the ‘Gigue’ notably more slowly, generating a gracefully flowing momentum, even more successfully achieved in his later recording with Szigeti. Here Mordkovitch’s infexious headlong rhythm and big tone is not only faster but also heavier, the graceful classical frieze tending to become a lumbering Russian bear dance.

The earliest music here is the Pastorale, originally written in 1907 as a vocalise to please Nadezhda, the daughter of his teacher, Rimsky Korsakov, and it is given a ripely romantic reading – all expressive violin tone creating a timeless reverie. Better known in a spikier version for violin and ensemble which Stravinsky himself recorded with Szigeti, here it is presented in the unfamiliar violin and piano version which I prefer, creating a beautiful expectant mood, yet more nocturne than aubade.

Julian Milford at the piano tends to be the second string in this duo, though I found pleasing the generally realistic piano balance. He rises brilliantly to the virtuosic display pieces, but in those typical passages of insistent keyboard rhythm to my ear he sometimes tends not to achieve the idiomatic inexorable quality found by the composer himself.

Lydia Mordkovitch ends with a terrific flashy encore, the ‘Dance Russe’ from Petroushka, which in the hall would have brought the house down. When placed beside the simple poise of the insistent ‘Chanson Russe’ from Mavra it defines the poles of her playing. Mordkovitch is a big musical personality, and there are some lovely things here. Few will be disappointed, though speaking personally I have a lingering allegiance to the authenticity of the composer’s own recordings of some of these, with Dushkin, available on EMI Composers in Person (CDS7 54607-2) or once in the Vogue set of all Stravinsky’s pre-war 78s (665002/1-5). But to obtain almost the full span of Stravinsky’s violin music you have to have Mordkovitch: an unexpectedly wide range of memorable repertoire in colourful and personally characterised performances.

Lewis Foreman 

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