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Igor Stravinsky: A Portrait - His Works - His Life. Various works and artists. Naxos 8.558186-87, copyright 2008, 2:37:06, $18.98
Harvesting back catalogues and repackaging them in myriad configurations in an attempt to reach new audiences and increase revenue with little up-front cost is a common practice. Some view this as a callous marketing ploy and a “dumbing down” of their product. However, like most endeavors, it all depends on the end result and the integrity of the project. Naxos has an enormous vault of everything from the most popular works to many that may never get another hearing beyond the recording session. So, it was inevitable that they would eventually package a series of CD sets that include previously unissued recordings of works by prominent composers. The result is a smartly designed and generous series called “A Portrait.”
This particular set is dedicated to the life and music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) — arguably the most well-known and influential composer of the 20th century. Naxos has more than 30 individual CDs featuring the music of Stravinsky, so there is much to choose from. This set, and all the others in this series, features 2 CDs packed to the limit (close to 80 minutes each) and a 98-page booklet, all housed in a sturdy slipcase with a wonderful black and white photograph of the composer on the cover. The booklet features a compact, but fascinating biography that ties in the musical selections with both the life of Stravinsky and world events. There are also several more photos contained within.
The selections are presented in more or less chronological order ranging from Firebird all the way to Canticum sacrum (previously unreleased). As in any collection of this type, most large works are not here in their entirety. Stravinsky was either a part of, or actually invented, most of the musical “isms” of the 20th century, and with this collection you get a taste of his neo-baroque Pulcinella Suite all the way to the 12-tone Requiem Canticles. Most of the selections feature orchestras and smaller ensembles conducted by Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s artistic partner and biographer. The sound and performances are of the highest quality — something you’d be hard pressed to find on recordings at three or four times the price.
Other composers in this series include Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergey Prokofiev, Arvo Pärt, Béla Bartók, Peter Maxwell Davies and Joaquin Rodrigo, with many more to come. Info on this CD set and all things Naxos can be found at http://www.naxos.com.