Stravinsky was a great recycler of music, his own and other composers. When it was his own it was usually done for copyright renewal and continuing remuneration and added little to his oeuvre – did revamping the great ballet scores improve them?
However, his ingenious creative reworking of themes from baroque composer Pergolesi produced one of his most delightful works – the ballet Pulcinella.
A transcription for piano and cello was made, under the title Suite Italienne, here performed by the husband-and-wife duo of Martin Helmchen and Marie-Elisabeth Hecker.
Stravinsky collaborated with the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatgorsky so it’s no surprise that the cello is the star.
Hecker seized the opportunity, her warm mellow tone tingeing the lovely Serenata melody with melancholy and she revelled in the virtuoso demands of the Tarantella, combining with Helmchen in a finale crackling with energy.
Bach’s Sonata No 3 finds the composer at his most austere and, in the case of this performance, at his dullest. Even Hecker’s articulation and subtle use of vibrato could not redeem the second movement which was too slow – even for an adagio.
Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata found both players on top form with Helmchen, until then in the back seat, giving an aptly sinister edge to the Allegro Scherzando with his crisp and rhythmically incisive playing but also relaxing gracefully in those warmly lyrical passages which would sit happily in one of Rachmaninov’s romantic piano concertos.
Hecker excelled in the slow movement’s rapturous extended melody, one of the composer’s finest.