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Greg Hettmansberger
Dane101, March 2011

First in the after-the-fact category: for anyone who was fortunate enough to attend Con Vivo’s compelling performance of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” last Saturday, I ran across a fascinating Naxos CD. This, like many performances, features just the Suite (no actors, and by the way, remember that many recordings use the original French title, “L’Histoire du Soldat”), but it is a snap-crackle-pop performance that is guaranteed to excite. It is volume 7 of what is called “The Robert Craft Collection,” Craft being the longtime assistant to, and in some cases, definitive conductor of Stravinsky. The bargain CD is generously filled out with many other short and often overlooked works that can be hard to find.




Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Pastorale (in the composer’s arrangement for violin and woodwind) opens this collection with a gentle, wistful charm. Written originally as a vocal piece in 1908, it introduces Robert Craft’s collection of early works dating from 1911 to 1918, the exception being the brazen arrangement of the Scherzo á la Russe which Stravinsky re-orchestated for the Paul Whiteman Band in 1944. The most familiar work here is the Histoire du Soldat Suite, given an animated, boldly characterized performance, with splendid playing from the orchestral soloists. But Renard creates a similar dynamic instrumental character, with the vividly histrionic vocal participation (Stravinsky wrote the libretto himself) impressively well sung and exuberantly full of ribald wit. It is presented at top speed with sharp accuracy and bravura by the present group, laced with bizarre barnyard effects from the orchestra, a breathless fun piece, even if one cannot hear all the words (for no text is provided).

The Three Pieces for Clarinet are miniatures of sharp originality, the first lugubriously chalumeau, the second virtuosic, the third with unexpected jazzy syncopations; however, the following Pour Picasso is just a morsel. The two Belmont Songs are lyrical and beautiful, and the Three Japanese Lyrics are sinuously seductive, all exquisitely sung by Susan Narucki. These are provided with translations, but the four Pribaoutki are not. Here Catherine Ciesinski brings out their bold Russian folk derivation, with the composer’s scoring ever ear-tickling. The four Berceuses du chat are equally memorable, with stealthy clarinet colouring. The programme ends with the Song of the Volga Boatmen boisterously scored and played with enthusiasm by the Philharmonia Orchestra. All these performances offer first-class playing from a galaxy of artists and spirited, crisply detailed direction from Robert Craft, who also provides excellent notes. The recording cannot be faulted, except perhaps for a rather backward balance of the soloists in Renard.



Ivan March
Gramophone, May 2007

Wistful is not a word one expects to use to describe a composition of Stravinsky but the Pastorale which opens this collection has just that kind of charm. Written originally as a vocal piece in 1908, it introduces Robert Craft’s collection of early works dating from 1911 to 1918, the exception being the audacious arrangement of the Scherzo à la russe that Stravinsky made for Paul Whiteman’s Band in 1944. The most familiar work here is the Histoire du soldat Suite, given a sharply characterized performance. But the opening of Renard establishes a similarly dynamic instrumental character, while the dramatic vocal participation is exuberantly full of bawdy wit. It is presented with great accuracy and élan, laced with weird barnyard noises from the orchestra, and is great fun even if one cannot hear all the words (no text is provided).

The two Bal’mont songs are beautiful and the Three Japanese Lyrics are sinuously seductive, all exquisitely sung by Susan Narucki. Both sets are provided with translations, but the four Pribaoutki are not. Here Catherine Ciesinski brings out their primitive, often robust Russian folk derivation. The four Cats’ Cradle Songs are equally memorable, slinky morsels with stealthy clarinet colouring. The programme ends with the Song of the Volga Boatmen, vulgarly scored but played roisterously by the Philharmonia Orchestra.

All these performances offer superb ensemble playing and spirited, crisply detailed direction from Robert Craft who also provides excellent notes. This Naxos series is of real distinction and the recording cannot be faulted, except perhaps for a somewhat backward balance of the soloists in Renard.




James McCarthy
Limelight Magazine, May 2007

This is the latest in the brilliant series of Stravinsky recordings from Naxos. In this case primarily devoted to pieces written largely in his neo-classical style for small instrumental groups. The principal works in the collection is the suite he made from his music drama The Soldier’s Tale and Renard, a small burlesque, designed for performance in a drawing room. In this recording it is sung in Stravinsky’s own English translation. The Soldier’s Tale was designed as an economical work that could be ‘read, played and danced’ in almost any setting. The most familiar of the shorter works is Pastorale,w ith its sly and haunting oboe theme. In his superb accompanying notes, Craft (Stravinsky’s friend and biographer) tells us that this was originally written as a song for Rimsky-korsakov’s daughter. Berceuses du Chat reflects his love of cats and the composer Anton Webern adored Pribaoutki, a setting of nonsense songs, calling it ‘something really glorious’. All are played superbly under Craft’s tight direction. He takes a no-nonsense approach to the master’s music. Observing the acerbic wit and bright, dry-eyed sounds, which were uniquely his, the performances and recordings are first class.




Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, March 2007

Here is another of Naxos's budget-priced feasts of music by the 20th-century's ultimate composer - all of it buzzing with character, atmosphere and fun, and showing how Stravinsky responded to a lifetime's exile from his native Russia by sometimes becoming more Russian than ever. The major party pieces are the suite from the music-theatre masterwork The Soldier's Tale, and the over-the-top antics of Renard (a kind of farmyard-animal vaudeville show). Meanwhile, the smaller song-cycles are wonderful chips from the composer's bench, combining his trademark virtuoso brilliance with exquisite touch. The performances reflect this, with Susan Narucki's soprano sounding especially lovely.




Geoff Brown
Limelight Magazine, January 2007

Eleven Russian-slanted pieces here, from a 30- second clarinet sketch to the spiky Histoire du Soldat suite, delivered in crisp accounts by Stravinsky’s former assistant Robert Craft. Close attention is paid to manuscript sources. Most tracks have appeared before; the exception is the sparkling account of the burlesque Renard (in Stravinsky’s own English translation). The highlight is Scherzo à la Russe: fast, airy, and irresistible.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

As Naxos has progressed through Robert Craft's extensive survey of Igor Stravinsky's music, I have commented at length on his unique place as confidant and conducting assistant during the composer's later years in the United States. It gave a singular insight into his final thoughts, though Craft is anxious to stress that these are his own performances based on the experience of their years together. The present disc is a sweeping up exercise of shorter works and comes from previously released material on the Music Masters and Koch labels to which is added a recent recording of Renard. To detail the vast array of performers in such a compilation would make for an extremely lengthy heading, so I am contenting myself with the orchestras involved. I should point out that L'Histoire du Soldat contains just the instrumental parts; Pastorale comes in the composer's arrangement for violin and woodwind quintet, while the Scherzo a la Russe is played in the original jazz band score. So now I have to resort to a generalisation in commenting that the performances are of the high standard we have come to expect in the series. Highpoints are certainly Charles Neidich's excellent playing of the Three Pieces and Sarah Narucki's perfectly focused singing of the Two Belmont Songs and Three Japanese Lyrics. As we move around several recording locations and widely separated dates, the bringing together has been achieved with minimal feel of change between tracks. If you want this unusual coupling to fill some gaps, go for it.






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5:01:29 PM, 29 July 2014
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