BBC Music Magazine - - REVIEWS -

The Sol­dier’s Tale; Fan­fare for a New The­atre; plus Maxwell Davies: Canon ad hon­orem Igor Stravin­sky (arr. Knussen); Birtwistle: Cho­rale from a Toy Shop – for Igor Stravin­sky (ver­sions for winds and strings) Har­riet Wal­ter, Har­ri­son Birtwistle, Ge­orge Ben­jamin (speak­ing roles); Royal Academy of Mu­sic Man­son En­sem­ble/ Oliver Knussen

Linn CKD 552 69:53 mins

The lat­est fruit of Linn Records’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lon­don’s Royal Academy of Mu­sic (RAM) is an ex­cep­tion­ally re­ward­ing as­sem­bly of 20th-cen­tury cham­ber-mu­sic gems by the Man­son En­sem­ble, the RAM’S splen­didly ac­com­plished stu­dent band de­voted to con­tem­po­rary mu­sic. Un­der Oliver Knussen, cur­rent RAM Richard Rodney Ben­nett Pro­fes­sor of Mu­sic, a Stravin­sky memo­rial has been de­signed to set The

Sol­dier’s Tale, its largest work, amid a se­lec­tion of tiny late-stravin­sky pieces in­ter­spersed with no less tiny Stravin­sky trib­utes from Har­ri­son Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies.

The orig­i­nal plan was that Birtwistle, as the Sol­dier, and Har­riet Wal­ter’s Nar­ra­tor should be joined in the record­ing stu­dio by Maxwell Davies as the Devil; but the lat­ter’s death re­sulted in an­other lead­ing Bri­tish com­poser, Ge­orge Ben­jamin, tak­ing over as the Devil. (The pair­ing of no­table com­posers in this work is a hal­lowed US tra­di­tion.)

For any­one want­ing an English­language ac­count of this key Stravin­sky master­piece – al­most a cen­tury old and bulk­ing ever larger among his great­est achieve­ments for its mighty scale and sub­ject mat­ter drawn out of min­i­mal means – this set has much to of­fer. It’s recorded in a way to con­vey to the max­i­mum both the po­etic de­tail and the ex­pert pac­ing of Knussen’s finely-pointed read­ing, and to give full rein to Dame Har­riet’s won­der­fully free-spir­ited yet ex­act Nar­ra­tor. Oth­ers may en­joy Birtwistle’s flat-toned Sol­dier and Ben­jamin’s slightly school­boy­ish Devil more than I do (mem­o­ries be­ing hard to ef­face of Peter Usti­nov’s ir­re­sistibly funny Devil in the clas­sic Igor Marke­vitch record­ing, and of Depar­dieu son and fa­ther as Sol­dier and Devil in Shlomo Mintz’s). As a whole, how­ever, the disc mer­its a strong rec­om­men­da­tion. Max Lop­pert

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