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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE TRANSLATOR'S TALE, 14 Dec 2009
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stravinsky: Soldier's Tale / Dumbarton Oaks (Audio CD)
It's quite safe to say to every enthusiast for Stravinsky that the musical side of this production is excellent, supported by faultless recordings from 1995 and 1996, and the disc is an excellent bargain as well, as you would expect from Naxos. The style adopted for this English version of The Soldier's Tale is completely consistent on its own terms too. The soldier himself sounds innocent and green, as of course he should do. He also sounds rather suburban, Purley rather than Peckham, whereas I would have expected him to sound more proletarian. However, if he had sounded that way he would have been out of keeping with the text he is given. This English translation is by two authors in collaboration, the one whose name I know being Michael Flanders. Without any disrespect to Flanders's memory as an entertainer, I can't really feel that his idiom fits this quirky little variant on the Faust legend. I certainly agree that rhyming verse is the right way to do it, as that helps to keep the listener's focus. (The text is not printed in the liner, and I don't believe you will need it there.) What I find all the same is that the rhymes here are dreadfully flat-footed. The English language is not very rich in rhymes, as Housman said by way of noting Swinburne's extraordinary ingenuity in overcoming this limitation. However I really yearn for better rhymes than we get here, and indeed for an English diction generally that is not so dated and 1950's insipid. In this year of grace (or disgrace) 2009 the theme of money being the devil's tool of corruption and damnation has a very strong resonance, and I would love to see and hear a new English text for The Soldier's Tale that is more in keeping with our own era and culture.

Obviously I don't expect everybody to share this viewpoint, and I gladly concede that the spoken side of the performance at least has integrity and consistency from its own standpoint. Where I hope I will get more agreement is in my opinion of the instrumental playing, which I would call excellent without qualification. There are seven instrumentalists, all rightly identified by name, in The Soldier, and they play Stravinsky as I love to hear him played - the tone clear, the texture clean and linear, the rhythm crisp. The purely instrumental sections, mainly the marches and the various dances but with a solemn contrast provided by the trumpet and trombone in the two chorales, are just right to my ears, and well recorded too, as they need to be. The English version of the liner note appears to be by Keith Anderson if I have tracked this information down accurately, and it does what I would call its proper job in giving a detailed synopsis of the action. There are also short profiles of the three actors, together with brief notes on the Northern Chamber Orchestra and its conductor Nicholas Ward who perform the Dumbarton Oaks concerto that provides a welcome filler to The Soldier's Tale.

I love concerti grossi, and I love the Dumbarton Oaks concerto grosso in particular. For anyone so far unfamiliar with it, Stravinsky modelled it on the Brandenburg concertos of J S Bach, using the 3-movement format that Bach uses in 5 out of his 6. The performers are the admirable Northern Chamber Orchestra, founded in Manchester in 1967. Even a small orchestra sounds rich and full-toned after the austere septet that accompanies the soldier and his tale. I enjoyed this contrast just for its own sake, and the speeds were my idea of right in all three movements. Only the first is marked `tempo giusto', but I found three tempi giusti.

Perhaps I am wrong in not giving the full 5 stars to this fine disc, but you know what my reason for that is, whatever you think of it. I am thoroughly pleased to have acquired it, and with any luck time may reconcile me, at least partially, to the text.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Space, 7 July 2010
Mr. A. R. Boyes "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stravinsky: Soldier's Tale / Dumbarton Oaks (Audio CD)
I understand David Bryson's view about the translated text and the 1950's syle of diction but this translation can and has worked before. I agree that much of the playing is first class and that the concerto is excellent but my first experience of the Soldier's Tale was a wonderful DG recording with the Boston Symphony Players and no less than John Gielgud, Tom Courtney and Ron Moody as the speakers.

You can imagine that that would take some beating and I've never heard better since. It's strengths highlight the shortcomings in this recording. Firstly, the DG sound was very close - as if the performers were in your room, making it intimate but very incisive without any unnecessary reverb. Secondly, the playing was outstanding with the final drums solo really stealing the show (the Devil is dancing with joy) - her it seems to leave with a quiet whimper. Thirdly, the speakers perform in clipped phrases echoing the tight rhythms of the piece. It sounds less naturalistic and more caricature but, as a result, not set in a particular time - monumental you might say - like many Stravinsky theatre pieces. Finally, Ron Moody's devil stole the show again by being menacing and a comic cartoon villain at the same time. In this Naxos recording we're transported from our living rooms to an empty, echoey hall. The speakers seem too relaxed and conversational compared tot eh tight DG version. Even so, it is still enjoyable to follow the story.

Let's be fair, it's asking too much to match the DG recording and this Naxos recording is still a fine performance in a not too populated field. I do miss my old DG record that slowly drowned, after many playings, in a sea of snap, crackle and pops. If there is anyone at DG or anywhere else able to organise a release of the DG recording, however, I would be overjoyed. Is anyone listening?
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Stravinsky: Soldier's Tale / Dumbarton Oaks
Stravinsky: Soldier's Tale / Dumbarton Oaks by Igor Stravinsky (Audio CD - 1998)
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