By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2021 issue of Strings magazine

Igor Stravinsky: Suite Italienne for viola and piano | Arranged by Kim Kashkashian | Boosey & Hawkes | $29.15

London publisher Boosey & Hawkes recently added Stravinsky’s scintillating Suite Italienne to its well-stocked concert repertoire for viola. Arranged by Kim Kashkashian, it closely follows the 1930s violin and piano transcription by Samuel Dushkin; however Kashkashian adds an Aria and Toccata as the third and fifth movements, and omits the Gavotte and Variations and Scherzino found in the violin/piano version. Kashkashian’s two alternative choices eminently suit the viola timbre.

Stravinsky’s perennially popular Suite arose from the fruitful partnership between American violinist Dushkin with the composer adapting themes from his ballet Pulcinella to suit a violin-piano duo. Even earlier, in 1925, he had collaborated with Polish violinist Paul Kochanski, and in 1932, with Gregor Piatigorsky in a cello/piano version.


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First performed at the Paris Opera in 1920, Pulcinella heralded the composer’s leaner neo-classical style featuring smaller chamber ensembles, more transparent textures, and astringent harmonies. The ballet was under the baton of Ernest Ansermet, with dancer Léonide Massine creating both the libretto and choreography, Picasso designing the costumes and sets, and commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev: the stellar line-up was enhanced by Stravinsky’s remarkable score.

The composer wrote, “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my later work became possible.” Taken from a manuscript found in Naples, dating from 1700 and purporting to be by Pergolesi, Stravinsky adapted and molded the old music, borrowing specific themes and textures but adding his modern rhythms and harmonies while preserving the gracious courtly style and comedic traditional characters of the popular Neapolitan stage.

Originally in one act and divided into 21 sections, the ballet offered eight vivacious dance melodies for the basis of the Suite. Six are reproduced in the violin version, and six in the viola arrangement. The ballet’s overture, now called Introduzione, retains the Baroque ritornello style of the original scoring. The ensuing Serenata keeps the gentle lilt of a Sicilienne, while the Tarantella’s whirlwind pace provides the central virtuoso showpiece of the Suite. Continuing in the Baroque style, Kashkashian chooses the enchanting Aria, instead of the Gavotte and Variations. The Scherzino is replaced by a bold Toccata and the Minuetto and Finale lead to a fanfare of excitement worthy of an 18th-century comic opera finale.

Pages 10a and 11a are included as loose inserts. These would need to be firmly secured to the music stand to prevent flying away. A better solution may be to print them as foldout pages. Both the piano score and viola solo part are in clear, bold print. Violists will welcome this show-stopping addition to their repertoire.

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