Review By David Denton, Naxos,December 2007
Continuing Robert Craft's complete recording of Stravinsky's orchestral works we have the ballets that followed the composer's series of highly provocative scores for Dyagilev and the Ballets Russes. We have now moved forward thirty years and more, and to the time of his association with the choreographer, George Balanchine, who was to commission Jeux de cartes, the story of a card game in three 'deals'. By now Stravinsky's scores had become lean in texture, and though the pungency was still there, the music had lost its ability to shock. Craft smooths out some of the more acerbic aspects of the score, concentrating on the wit in the music and in Balanchine's subsequent choreography. Six years later, and the first score completed in his new Hollywood home, came the Dances , as much intended for the concert hall as it was for the theatre. Its five sections scored for a chamber orchestra come from his neo-classicism era where atonality rubs shoulders with tonality, the scoring both taxing and exposed. Scenes de Ballet was completed in a great hurry to meet a commission for a Broadway score, some of the music in the seven short sections eventually defeating the pit orchestra, the entire ballet only fully realised in its London premiere with choreography by Frederick Ashton, that version taking the score into the ballet repertoire. Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra is a much earlier work from 1929 where atonality almost takes over, its presence on the disc coming from its later use by Balanchine for the ballet, Jewels. I suppose Naxos had to find a home in this cycle for the Variations, a score completed when Stravinsky was eighty-two, its premiere given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Craft conducting. The recordings made through the 1990's have been released previously on various labels and feature a number of orchestras and recording locations. I particularly enjoyed the highly detailed and virtuoso account of the Dances concertantes from the New York based Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble; Mark Wait is the excellent soloist in the technically demanding Capriccio, and the London Philharmonic give the benchmark account of Variations. Though the Philharmonia Orchestra could with benefit have been brought forward in Jeu de cartes, the sound from such diverse sources is married together with little variation between tracks.more....