Stravinsky: Violin Concerto & Chamber Works

Stravinsky: Violin Concerto & Chamber Works

“It’s such a good feeling to really get close to the orchestra members rather than just standing in front and doing your solo concerto.” For German violinist Isabelle Faust, the great modernist composer Igor Stravinsky has been something of a matchmaker. His Violin Concerto, composed in 1931, as well as various chamber works, has brought her closer to the period-instrument orchestra Les Siècles and its conductor François-Xavier Roth. Through this recording, Faust and Les Siècles have discovered a shared fascination with the variety of colors conjured by Stravinsky’s music when played by the instruments of his time. And there’s a great deal of character in those instruments which suggests, to Faust’s delight, a hitherto underappreciated side to Stravinsky. “When a bassoon takes over in a very low voice it’s often clear that Stravinsky’s making a grimace, or he’s opposing different characters,” she tells Apple Music. “With these instruments the theatrical side comes through; you can hear all his ballet pieces just jumping in your face, full of drama, melancholy, but also humor.” For Faust, that humor can be heard even in the Concerto’s very opening chord: “It’s such an unusual gesture, like a big scream to start each movement. But I’m sure it’s not only to shock people, but also meant humorously.” A bittersweet and rather sarcastic scream, perhaps, conceivably uttered by Stravinsky’s celebrated anti-hero Petrushka. That gesture also poses something of a notorious technical challenge. As Faust recalls, Stravinsky wrote the chord on a napkin while in a café with Samuel Dushkin, the violinist for whom he was writing the concerto. Dushkin’s immediate reaction was that it couldn’t be played. On later trying it out he found, to his surprise and delight, the chord entirely playable—this news being received with some relief by Stravinsky, given the chord’s importance as the ‘passport’ to each of the Concerto’s movements. For her performance with Les Siècles, Faust chose to play a gut-stringed violin, as was fairly common practice in Stravinsky’s time. And in their first rehearsal, Faust relived something of Dushkin’s apprehension at that chord: “The thing is, you have to really grip the strings strongly. I was afraid that the gut string would break each time I played this very first chord, but it didn’t break once. It seems the gut strings really like you not to be timid. And it worked very well, producing a more percussive sound than we usually hear.” Faust’s collaboration with Les Siècles went far deeper than the mere fact they were joining forces to play this work: “In Stravinsky’s Concerto there’s constantly some kind of duo going on with the solo violin. In the last movement the concertmaster suddenly joins in—we know that Stravinsky loved Bach’s Double Concerto, and I think he even said himself that he had that work in mind.” There are instances, too, where Stravinsky evokes the feeling of a concerto grosso, with the winds, bassoon, and other instruments thrust into the limelight with the solo violin. “I’m constantly throwing the ball and then getting it back,” adds Faust. “I have to respond, and I also have to inspire.” Faust complements the Concerto’s chamber-like character with some of Stravinsky’s works for small ensembles. The result is an eclectic program showing some of the many facets of Stravinsky’s creativity, from the brutal primitivism of the Three Pieces for String Quartet featuring Faust on first violin, to the early Pastorale, its period wind instruments adding a charming rustic quality. As a curtain-raiser to the Concerto, Faust performs the graceful solo from Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo: “It’s the one piece that concertmasters are usually very happy about and which I never get to play outside of this album. I love this movement!”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada