On the first page of the score of Suite Italienne, in the space to the right just above the first line of music, appears the name Igor Stravinsky. I dare say some might assume, without question, that the music is by the famed creator of ballet scores such as Petrouchka, Firebird and Rite of Spring. To me, his name on the page is an artistic fraud. The delightful, charm-laden melodies of Suite Italienne are not in even the remotest sense the product of a man who, for all his genius, had great difficulty in creating memorable melodies. (He was in good company here; Beethoven, for instance, struggled for novel melody unlike, say, Schubert whose melodic gift was like an unstoppable torrent).
So, Stravinksy stole melodies – yes, stole – in the sense of purloining what did not belong to him from composers who could not fight back because they were long dead. Then, Stravinsky rewrote their delightful pieces – primarily by Pergolesi – and ensured there were a number of dissonances to make it sound ‘modern’ (although Stravinsky retained most of the original harmonies) and then raked in a bucket of money in the form of royalties. He got a good deal of mileage out of his pilfered goods with at least two suites from the ballet for violin and piano as well as this version for cello and piano.
There’s a splendid lift to the phrase in the Introduction – and in the following Serenata, Susanne Beer draws a fine ribbon of sound from her instrument, all the while informing the music with the most engaging lilt. There’s excellent double stopping here. Beer and her attentive piano partner Gareth Hancock bring an altogether appropriate sense of bucolic gruffness to the Aria and, in the Tarantella, set and maintain a spanking pace with a fine sense of onward momentum. It makes for bracing listening. Yet again, tone is excellent from both musicians, splendidly apparent in the rhythmic gusto they bring to the Finale.
Beer and Hancock are no less persuasive in Debussy’s Sonata, sounding equally convincing in stylistic terms in both turbulent and musing measures in the first movement. The Serenade and Finale make no less rewarding listening, much of it couched in passionate terms with eerie pizzicato conjuring up images of goblinesque cavortings. At the time of writing this work, Debussy was already in the grip of an unstoppable cancer – but his creativity here is at its highest, an act of wonderful creative defiance in the face of impending doom.
Brahms’ Sonata is given a model performance which comfortably holds its own against most of the competition. I very much admired the skill with which the players convey the essence of the slow movement, allowing the music to speak for itself. And the manner in which the restless demon lurking behind the printed note of the Allegro passionato is revealed is masterly.