Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Igor Stravinsky

Some people, particularly younger people, love lists of “the best” or “the greatest”. This can become ridiculous; whilst it is not too difficult to suggest the three greatest composers, it is much more controversial to pinpoint the five greatest. Or the greatest French composer (there are many truly excellent French composers, but “the greatest”?) And so with “the greatest composer of the 20th century”. I happen to think there was not a greatest, just very many extremely good composers.

One (young) musical journalist once nominated Igor Stravinsky for this title; a puzzling choice. Since my teens I have enjoyed the Firebird, Petrouchka, Rite of Spring, Symphony of Psalms, Soldier's Tale, Agon, Threni and a few other pieces of the carefully controversial but carefully commercial Russian professional emigré with a constant desire to make money in France, Switzerland or America. His violin concerto -- like his piano concerto -- has never really made the big time. I have thoroughly enjoyed his violin concerto recently played by Patricia Kopatchinskaja (henceforward: PK. The girl's name simply has too many finger-twisting syllables). PK recorded it with Vladimir Jurowski, and also played it on-air conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, and PK is probably the ideal soloist for this semi-baroque, semi-modern, semi-important violin concerto. She is technically brilliant (of course) but also brings a spirit of adventure and freshness to the music. PK is firmly in my pantheon of superb modern women of the violin (which includes Alina Ibragimova, Vilde Frang, Tianwa Yang and Lisa Batiasvili). But even PK at her finest cannot convince me that old Igor was a “great” composer -- let alone the 20th century's greatest.

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