Stravinsky: L'Histoire du Soldat, complete (CD review)

Madeleine Milhaud, narrator; Jean Pierre Aumont, the soldier; Martial Singher, the Devil;  Leopold Stokowski, Instrumental Ensemble. Vanguard Classics OVC 8004.

I'm sure it's only my imagination that the Vanguard label issued this recording about thirty times since its initial release in 1967: In English, in French, in a suite, in various remastered editions, etc. However, this 1999 edition is probably the definitive one. It is complete in two parts, about fifty-five minutes long; conducted by Leopold Stokowski and a select few instrumentalists; narrated by Madeleine Milhaud, wife of the composer, Darius Milhaud, and a distinguished actress in her own right; and performed by French opera star Martial Singher and stage and film actor Jean Pierre Aumont.

Although Igor Stravinsky's 1918 L'Histoire du Soldat ("The Soldier's Tale") is no doubt more popular today in its purely instrumental suite, the complete work ("to be read, played, and danced") with its substantial narration is worth a listen. It is more than a drama with music. This story of the soldier and the devil has a charming simplicity of tone and manner, combining lyrical and occasional raucous elements in pointed contrast. Overall, the mood is acerbic, to be sure, but there is much grace underlying the expressionistic exterior, too, which Stokowski and his players capture nicely.

Leopold Stokowski
The 1967 Vanguard recording has the distinction of having been the first American recording made with the Dolby Noise Reduction System. As such, there was no great need to impose further noise reduction or other modifications on the present remastering. Instead, it is a 24-bit, SBM, high-definition transfer made from the original 30 I.P.S. tapes and utilizing the same type of Ampex 300 series vacuum tube recorder used when Vanguard first produced it.

The results are impressively transparent yet warm and sweet in a purely realistic way. Detail is excellent. Voices are natural and well placed within the context of the music. Bass has a splendid bloom. Dynamics are wide, transients are quick, and impact is strong. Imaging and depth of field are not particularly pronounced but perceptively accurate. And backgrounds are dead quiet.

In terms of both performance and sound, it is an excellent recording by the standards of any day.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa