Part of the Mariinsky Label’s raison d’etre is to shine a light on great Russian works, especially those which Artistic Director Valery Gergiev feels don’t have an adequate selection of top quality recordings. Here he explores the genius of Stravinsky through a theme of ballet, contrasting
Petrushka with one of the composer’s lesser known works, the witty Jeu de cartes. Petrushka is one of Stravinsky’s most celebrated works and a product of his famous collaboration with Diaghilev that also brought The Firebird and Rite of Spring into the world. Presented here in the composer’s original 1911 version, it tells the story of the loves and jealousies of three puppets who are brought to life during the 1830 Shrovetide Fair in Saint Petersburg. Its colourful music typifies Stravinsky’s work during the period and is characterised by the famous bi-tonal ‘Petrushka chord’.
A ballet in ‘three deals’, 1937’s Jeu de cartes stems from Stravinsky’s life-long enthusiasm for cards; poker in particular. A commission by Lincoln Kirstein and his newly formed American Ballet Company, it was composed during Stravinsky’s neoclassical period. The whimsical music focuses on the deceitful Joker who thinks himself unbeatable, thanks to a chameleon-like ability to become any card.
During the work the Joker wages battle with other hands, but after two victorious rounds and the appearance of a third, he is vanquished by a Royal Flush of Hearts. Stravinsky regularly read La Fontaine during the composition of Jeu de cartes, chosing this quote to include in the score: ‘We must wage continual war against the wicked. Peace in itself is a fine thing, I agree, but what use can it be with enemies who do not keep their word?’