This is a really useful survey, conveniently bringing together most of
Stravinsky's music for violin and piano in one vibrantly played collection.
It has strong competition from a similar Itzhak Perlman compilation, but
Mordkovitch's inclusion of the Ballad, Pastorale and Danse
Russe excluded from that EMI collection (CDM5 66061-2) gives her an edge.
All that is missing are the arrangements from Firebird and The
Nightingale which the violinist Samuel Dushkin and Stravinsky themselves
recorded in 1933, plus the Elegy for violin or viola and that curious
byway of Stravinskyana, his 1919 arrangement of The Marseillaise.
Indeed at an overall timing of 70:44 there would well have been room for
one or two further items to clinch Mordkovitch's programme as the first
There is some lovely playing here, brilliant in the virtuoso fast music,
secure and gorgeously coloured in the more awkward slow passages. Indeed
one only has to compare the opening of the Duo Concertant in Szigeti's
recording with the composer to have the feeling, momentarily at least, that
Mordkovitch has the better grasp of the music.
Reservations may creep in if you have grown up with earlier recordings,
particularly those from the 1930s made by the composer with Samuel Dushkin,
for whom the music was largely written. If so, you may be used to rather
purer more aristocratic, less up-front emotive playing, raising the question
of what is an idiomatic style in Stravinsky's violin music. In Chandos's
ripest recorded sound, Mordkovitch's violin has a dramatic presence with
splendidly resonant bite, which certainly makes for enjoyable listening.
The trick is that different works respond to different treatment, and one
only has to become immersed in the theatrical contrasts of the opening 'Sinfonia'
from the Divertimento, and the vigour of the finale to the Suite
Italienne, to appreciate the strengths of Mordkovitch's artistry, though
only her accompanist seems to realise the importance of a real hush in the
The case in point is the Duo Concertant where Mordkovitch and Milford
add 2¼ minute to the composer's timing with Dushkin. However, although
generally faster, Stravinsky took the 'Gigue' notably more slowly, generating
a gracefully flowing momentum, even more successfully achieved in his later
recording with Szigeti. Here Mordkovitch's infexious headlong rhythm and
big tone is not only faster but also heavier, the graceful classical frieze
tending to become a lumbering Russian bear dance.
The earliest music here is the Pastorale, originally written in 1907
as a vocalise to please Nadezhda, the daughter of his teacher, Rimsky Korsakov,
and it is given a ripely romantic reading - all expressive violin tone creating
a timeless reverie. Better known in a spikier version for violin and ensemble
which Stravinsky himself recorded with Szigeti, here it is presented in the
unfamiliar violin and piano version which I prefer, creating a beautiful
expectant mood, yet more nocturne than aubade.
Julian Milford at the piano tends to be the second string in this duo, though
I found pleasing the generally realistic piano balance. He rises brilliantly
to the virtuosic display pieces, but in those typical passages of insistent
keyboard rhythm to my ear he sometimes tends not to achieve the idiomatic
inexorable quality found by the composer himself.
Lydia Mordkovitch ends with a terrific flashy encore, the 'Dance Russe' from
Petroushka, which in the hall would have brought the house down. When
placed beside the simple poise of the insistent 'Chanson Russe' from
Mavra it defines the poles of her playing. Mordkovitch is a big musical
personality, and there are some lovely things here. Few will be disappointed,
though speaking personally I have a lingering allegiance to the authenticity
of the composer's own recordings of some of these, with Dushkin, available
on EMI Composers in Person (CDS7 54607-2) or once in the Vogue set of all
Stravinsky's pre-war 78s (665002/1-5). But to obtain almost the full span
of Stravinsky's violin music you have to have Mordkovitch: an unexpectedly
wide range of memorable repertoire in colourful and personally characterised