Classical CD Reviews

“Rite” = STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; Petrouchka (piano transcriptions) – Jon Kimura Parker, p. – self

A bold and mostly successful transcription effort.

Published on May 21, 2013

“Rite” = STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; Petrouchka (piano transcriptions) – Jon Kimura Parker, p. – Jon Kimura Parker FP 0907, 70:08 ****:

This appears to be a vanity issue since I cannot really find any discernible company name on the CD. It was sponsored in part by the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University (and others) and recorded at the Stude Concert Hall there in 2009 and 2012.

Parker readily admits the problem with playing the Rite on piano; his fascination with the piece is long standing, especially since he first heard Stravinsky’s own two-piano version, which he says was done to facilitate ballet rehearsals and leaves a lot of the score out. Other single piano versions have left him unsatisfied, so he decided to tackle the chore himself and create his own, still left with the problem that everything in the orchestral score cannot possibly be put into the piano score without making it unplayable. In this regard lies the problem with this effort. We are so used to hearing the score with its own explicitly conceived orchestration that highlights certain lines and leaves others in the background that hearing it on the piano disturbs the equilibrium. All of a sudden what was a prominent melodic fragment in a high trumpet gets subordinated to a lower part which by nature on a piano sounds louder and distorts the intention of the composer made so clear in the orchestral score. Rhythmically of course it is a different issue; much of what is covered up in some performances of the piece is clear and concise here, and the results can be very interesting.

With Petrouchka the problems are much different. This is a piano concertante work anyway, so any transcription will compete with Stravinsky’s own work to a certain extent. And to top it all off, the Three Pieces from Petrouchka already show us a virtuoso version of parts of the piece, and the transcriber must be careful not to be too imitative. Parker mentions this as an obvious hurdle, and goes out of his way to present the orchestral score in a reasonable manner without relying too heavily on the existing piano parts, though the “Russian Dance” conforms pretty much to what Stravinsky put in the score.

So to my mind Petrouchka, being the more pianistic work, is more successful as a transcription per se, though I must admit that his Rite beats the composer’s own two-piano work hands down. This is an enjoyable and fascinating release, void of histrionics and full of some robust and highly accomplished piano playing. The sound from the Stude Concert Hall is airy and microscopically clear and realistic. A fine release.

—Steven Ritter




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