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Igor Stravinsky/ Histoire Du Soldat

Igor Stravinsky/ Histoire Du Soldat

January 1, 1990
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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By Santa Fe Listener HALL OF FAME on December 10, 2010
Format: MP3 Music
Even though it is listed at Amazon only as an MP3 download, this indispensable live recording from 1952 can be had elsewhere on CD. Ansermet conducted the 1918 premiere of L'histoire du soldat and had a lifelong relationship with the composer. We get to hear Jean Villard Gilles, who originated the role of the Devil, here performing as the narrator -- and a very sly, insinuating way he has with the words, too. The broadcast sound from the archives of the Suisse Romande radio is clear and undistorted mono, but overly bright and thin. The wind soloists from Ansermet's Suisse Romande orchestra are very French-sounding, full of quirky timbres. The all-important violin soloist is excellent and heard close up; he makes his instrument sound like a soldier's fiddle.

There are better played accounts of L'histoire -- the two from Stokowski (Vanguard) and Markevitch (Philips) top the list -- but none even approaches this live account, complete with stage noises, for pungency and etched artifice. You feel how peculiarly French Ramuz's fairy tale is, a perfect match for Stravinsky's cool, detached music. Wit doesn't come any drier. As an added peculiarity, we get five minutes of a 1940 radio broadcast, the only scrap that remains of Ramuz himself doing the narration. He intones the words like a stoned priest reciting in church -- maybe it's good that no one in the future followed suit. In any event, the whole affair is fascinating, a great addition to the recorded legacy of Stravinsky's chamber masterpiece.
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