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Smooth launches for 'Apollo'

October 09, 2005|Mark Swed

Stravinsky: Orchestral Works

Stuttgarter Kammerorchester. Dennis Russell Davies, conductor. (ECM)

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Three Greek Ballets

London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra of St. Luke's. Robert Craft, conductor. (Naxos)

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STRAVINSKY'S middle-period neoclassical ballets, especially the Greek-themed "Apollo" and "Orpheus," have never enjoyed the popularity of his earlier, riotously colorful and musically revolutionary Russian-fabled trio, which culminated in "The Rite of Spring." But what addicting beauty there is in Dennis Russell Davies' alluring performance of "Apollo." The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra is a terrific ensemble, and in "Apollo" as well as the Dances Concertantes and the Concerto in D, Davies brings out both a vitality and an expressive magic that I have not heard before in these pieces. Robert Craft's Apollo is more an idea than a living, breathing god. Craft has never been a particularly engaging conductor, but as Stravinsky's longtime associate, he has always been an interesting one. And his performances of "Apollo," the charming "Orpheus" and the later, edgier "Agon" do have a curious way of drawing you into the music and bringing you back for more. Given that the Naxos disc costs half as much as the ECM competition, that's a further draw.

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