A septet of LSO musicians relive the Russian folk tale of a soldier who trades his fiddle for unparalleled economic gain in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. A theatrical work ‘to be read, played and danced,’ British stage & television actor Malcom Sinclair narrates, leading audience members through the soldier’s regretful decision. A student of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Sinclair has performed widely, both in Britain and internationally, in theatrical roles that have included Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. Across his cinematic career, Sinclair has acted in several blockbuster films, including the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, and V for Vendetta.
Performed in 2015 as part of the Barbican’s inaugural Sound Unbound festival, The Soldier’s Tale was recorded in the Jerwood Hall of LSO St. Luke’s, a vibrant venue which is also home to the Orchestra’s community and music education programme. Directed by violinist Roman Simovic, the ensemble for this project featured veteran principal players from across the LSO, including bassoonist Rachel Gough, clarinetist Andrew Marriner, percussionist Neil Percy and trumpet player Philip Cobb.
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A devil of a tale gets a strong treatment.
The Soldier's Tale(orL'Histoire de soldat) was written during the First World War, whenStravinskyhad moved with his family to Switzerland. He worked on it with the Swiss poetCharles-Ferdinand Ramuz(to whom he had been introduced by Ernest Ansermet). Together they conceived of a small-scale narrative work for three male actors, a female dancer, and a chamber ensemble of violin, cornet, trombone, clarinet, bassoon, bass and percussion. The music was completed in 1918, and was as groundbreaking in its way asThe Rite of Spring. The story concerns a soldier who sells his violin (representing his soul) to the Devil - a theme that would preoccupy the composer in his operaThe Rake's Progresssome thirty-three years later.
The Soldier's Talehas been lucky on disc. Early recordings featured Robert Helpmann as the Devil (in English); Peter Ustinov as the Devil, Jean Cocteau narrating, and an ensemble conducted by Igor Markevitch (in French); then more recently Guillaume and Gérard Depardieu (French), or Vanessa Redgrave and Sting (English). Versions with single actors playing all the parts have featured Christopher Lee, and Jeremy Irons with an ensemble conducted by the composer, recorded 44 years before Irons' contribution. (Talk about long-term collaboration!)
Malcolm Sinclair, the distinguished British stage and screen actor, brings an apt working-class touch to the Soldier here - a quality missing in more 'BBC' style readings. Even his wily, high-voiced Devil displays the common touch. Sinclair's narrative rises to such a level of excitement in the scene where the Devil's horses take off into thin air, one wonders why Stravinsky did not set this section to music. TheLSO instrumental ensemblecharacterise with equal point: listen toRoman Simovich's smoky violin tone in the sultryTango. Their ensemble is immaculate in what can be a rhythmically challenging score. My only reservation concerns the balance: Sinclair sounds a little far back in the picture, but his words are always absolutely clear, and it is preferable to making his contribution unnaturally prominent. All the performers are engaged in telling a gripping Tale in this thoroughly recommendable release.