Tilson Thomas withholds the expected Pétrouchka from this collection in favor of Stravinsky's much less common Perséphone, a melodrama with texts by André Gide that was premièred in 1934 by mime Ida Rubinstein. The only other recordings of Perséphone currently available are Stravinsky's own (as part of Sony's 22-disc Stravinsky Edition) and one by Stravinsky disciple Robert Craft, so Tilson Thomas's contribution is welcome, particularly given the warmth of Stephanie Cosserat's recitations in the title role (and the staginess of Vera Zorina's on the composer's own recording). The detached coolness of Perséphone ensures that it never will attain the popularity of the other two works. Nevertheless, it contains excellent writing for the choirs, and the composer's syllable-by-syllable surgical approach to the texts leads to an abundance of beautiful sounds, if not a great deal of dramatic sense. This might have angered Gide, but we do not have to share his concerns.
Each work has a CD to itself, presumably to prevent any of them from being interrupted by a disc change. This was an admirable decision, but it results in three short CDs. BMG, however, is selling them for the price of two, so there's no need to complain.
The two familiar ballets are played very well indeed, with fine sensitivity for both color and forward drive. If Firebird takes a little time to warm up, then perhaps that is the composer's intention, and once Prince Ivan has entered the Palace of Kashchei there is no shortage of throat-tightening excitement. Tilson Thomas recorded The Rite of Spring near the start of his career for Deutsche Grammophon, and if anything, this new version is tighter and more alluring. The San Francisco Symphony plays the pants off of all of this music; taking this and some earlier Tilson Thomas efforts into considerations, the San Franciscans have not made such a compelling set of recordings in many a decade, and RCA's engineering – gotta love that bass drum! – is a wow. Thanks to the label for seeing the great things that are happening on the West Coast.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle