Stravinsky
Pétrouchka, The Rite of Spring (for piano duet)
Fiametta Tarli, Ivo Varbanov p
ICSM RECORDS ICSM006

The liner note to this disc says: “With the exception of The Rite of Spring, these ballet scores contain a significant part for the piano.” In other words, Pétrouchka does. These four-hand piano reductions of Stravinsky’s early ballets were once the only way of hearing them. However, for over 60 years we’ve had orchestral recordings, including those conducted by the composer, Bernstein, Ansermet, and Boulez. Stravinsky arranged these, but are they necessary today? Ideally, they enable you to hear the harmonic workings of the music in sharper detail, but in this recording a dull sound at the top renders the result muddy.

When Stravinsky created his solo piano work, Three Movements from Pétrouchka, he omitted music from the Third Tableau. Here we can see why. Without the distinctive colours of the trumpet, flute and cor anglais the music sounds banal. The dance of the Moor and the Ballerina makes little sense without their contrasting instrumental timbres.

The Rite of Spring is more basic, and less specifically representative of stage action, so the piano arrangement works better. It’s been recorded a few times, most famously in the late 1960s by Ralph Grierson and Michael Tilson Thomas. Tarli and Varbanov play well, with tight ensemble and some expression, but far too little attack. Listen to the Dance of the Adolescents with its controversial offbeat chords: these grandiose adolescents are well into their 50s. Fine, but non-essential.