Prokofiev : Romeo and Juliet - Suite No. 2, Op. 64
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra / cond. S. Prokofiev
Stravinsky: Divertiment from "Le Baiser de la Fée. Concerto in E flat, "Dumbarton Oaks"
Mexico Symphony Orch. / Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orch. / cond. I. Stravinsky
There are three bona fide rarities here. In 1940, Stravinsky made a visit to Mexico, conducting two concerts with the Mexico Symphony Orchestra
at the invitation of its founder and conductor, Carlos Chávez. Most of the programme consisted of Stravinsky's own music but Cherubini's Ancreon
Overture and Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony also featured. A recording of the ´Divertimento´ was made on August 3rd, immediately after the concert.
According to Robert Craft (Prejudices in Disguise: Alfred A. Knopf; 1974) it was remade the following year due to extraneous noise.
Leslie Gerber, the annotator, cites this Mexican Victor as ´one of Stravinsky's scarcest, possibly the very scarcest of all, and [it] has never been reissued.
Only three copies are presently known.´ Gerber's assesment of the performance - ´the orchestra, accustomed to playing twentieth-century music
under Chávez's direction, has no difficulty with Stravinsky's idiom and plays gratifyingly well´ - is substantiated by the aural evidence.
Stravinsky's 1941 version seems a bit more earthy and vehemently accented the the more suavely refined version with the Cleveland Orchestra
(available on Sony Heritage with other vintage mono Stravinsky recordings), but it makes a strong, incisive impression.
The Dumbarton Oaks Concerto was composed in 1937 for the wealthy owners of the Dumbarton Oaks estate outside Washington, DC, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods
Bliss and first performed at the estate ont he Blisses' 30th wedding anniversary on May 8th, 1938. Nadia Boulanger conducted. Almost a decade after the première,
on April 26th, 1947, Stravinsky conducted another performance at Dumbarton Oaks, and then made this, his only extant recording of the work, for the tiny Keynote label.
(Another version, long unavailable, was made for the Mercury with the same pick-up group, this time under Alexander Schneider's direction.) The composer-conducted account is
well played and very decently reproduced. Gerber contends that the Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2 is Prokofiev's one-and-only recording and that
a recording of his First Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh was in fact conducted by Kyrill Kondrashin. But I think he is mistaken: as I recall,
the version with Kondrashin was a little slower and less exciting than that attributed to the composer - definitely a different performance.
In any event, even with its tubby, studio-bound but very listenable reproduction, Prokofiev's direction of the Suite is cogent and rhythmically well sprung.
It is very much ´a composer's performance´ - tending towards the utilitarian and the spartan rather than opulent or sensuous. The Moscow orchestra
is no Boston Symphony, nor does it seem to have particularly fine instruments at its disposal. But the players are endearingly alert to the composer's
ideas and gestures.
An uncommonly interesting compendium, and one that can be highly recommended.