Rhythmic Sorcery


Petrouchka is rhythmically buoyant, filled with joy and one of the more colorfully orchestrated ballets on the planet. Composed in 1910-1911 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, it was choreographed by Folkine, and premiered in Paris with the great Russian dancer, Nijinsky, in the title role. The piece is but one of three selections on Telarc's spectacular all-Stravinsky hybrid SACD Stravinsky: Petrouchka, The Firebird Suite, Scherzo a la Russe from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi.

Petrouchka tells the tale of Russian puppet who comes to life and reacts passionately to his offstage existence. The score of the 1947 revision, resplendent with music that stretches the boundaries of what was considerable acceptable at the time of the premiere, is filled with huge percussive blasts, blazing winds, and all the emotional twists and turns of Petrouchka's straw-into-gold existence.

At Petrouchka's side, and also fabulously recorded, is the 1919 suite derived from the Firebird, the ballet that brought Stravinsky fame. Premiered to universal acclaim by the Ballets Russe in Paris in 1910, the Firebird's music inspired one reviewer to praise the orchestra's "shimmering web." This was before the savagery of Nijinsky's choreography in the 1913 ballet, The Rite Of Spring, caused a riot at the Paris premiere.

No riots ensued when, after Stravinsky emigrated to the United States in 1939, he reworked part of an unused film score into the Scherzo à la Russe. It's a delightful little piece, and a perfect complement to two of the composer's balletic triumphs.