Stravinsky’s Octet for brass and woodwind is usually considered an early statement of the composer’s emergent neoclassical call to order. Opening with a movement in sonata form, rare for Stravinsky, and followed by a theme-and-variations and a dance-like finale, it was generally derided by critics used to his Russian primitivist stylings. Copland said Stravinsky’s octet “bore no conceivable resemblance” to his previous output. But, he observed, “the Octet was destined to influence composers all over the world.”

Indeed, the remainder of Andrea Vitello’s I Solisti Della Scala’s program presents a series of octets that draw inspiration from Stravinsky’s neoclassical turn. As Guido Barbieri’s liner notes suggest, these compositions reflect an understanding of music as “an organism sustained and shaped by its own form”, rather than, for example, the emotionalism of the Romantic era. Thus we are given an Octet for Winds by Péter Eötvös, written in 2008 in memory of Stockhausen, and Alessio Elia’s 2016 Octet, both of which emphasise musical form and structure over emotional content and narrative. The disc ends with works by Albertas Navickas and Rita Ueda, both composed in 2017.

Vitello presents an essentially modern program, conceptually and musically interesting as well as technically demanding – if not always easy listening. The ensemble is hard to fault, and a pristine studio recording does them justice.

Composer: Stravinsky, Eötvös, Elia
Composition: Octets for Wind Instruments
Performer: I Solisti Della Scala/Andrea Vitello
Catalogue Number: Warner Classics 5419700581