"Stravinsky in America." London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. (BMG) * * * *
Stravinsky, so famous for his early Russian primitivistic ballets and his cosmopolitan Parisian neo-classicism, happened to spend his last three decades in America, and mainly, Los Angeles. These are 10 of the most engaging pieces he wrote because he lived in America.
That means music that started out as film projects that never quite worked out and got recycled (like a projected score for "Jane Eyre" that wound up in "Ode"). It means great ballet scores (most notably "Agon") written for Balanchine. It means a Cubist arrangement of "Happy Birthday" for Pierre Monteaux's 80th, and a striking, acerbic version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that practically got Stravinsky arrested for defacing national property. And there is the beautiful jewel of a piece, Variations, written in memory of his Hollywood pal, Aldous Huxley, and a piece for Paul Whiteman.
Tilson Thomas, who grew up in Stravinsky's Los Angeles and frequently worked with the composer, has the pulse of this music in his blood. Well-recorded, very well played, superbly annotated and utterly engaging (OK, maybe the cover illustration is goofy), this is an essential, irresistible recording.
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