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On CD: Another view of "L'Histoire"

Since L'Histoire du Soldat was the news at Castleton this weekend, Joe Banno took a look at a 2010 CD of an updated version of the work.

by Joe Banno

Stravinsky's 1918 theatrical chamber work, "L'Histoire du Soldat" ("A Soldier's Tale"), set to music a folk-tale-based text by C.F. Ramuz in which a soldier trades his violin to the Devil in return for a book that will make him rich. When the soldier realizes all the happiness he's lost, he manages to turn the tables on the Devil, regain his violin and marry a princess.

An American Soldier's Tale, in Kurt Vonnegut's retelling, available from Amazon.

No such reversals of fate await the protagonist of novelist Kurt Vonnegut's freshly conceived 1993 text for "L'Histoire" -- retitled "An American Soldier's Tale" and receiving its first recording on a Summit label CD (DCD 532) -- which tells the true, World War II-era story of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, the first American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War. Vonnegut's snarky, profanity-laced verse text -- which depicts officers as cold-hearted killing machines, Red Cross nurses as lice-ridden prostitutes and Slovik himself as a nerdy wise-ass who longs for death to release him from his loser's life -- does a nice job of updating the tone of the piece.
(read more after the jump)

If the narrative specifics of Stravinsky's acerbically folksy score don't always jibe with the slangy, modern feel of Vonnegut's words, there is, nevertheless, a hint of unexpected Brecht/Weill pungency to the mix. A quartet of lively young actors (Joseph Alessi Jr., David Baker, Max Strum and Madeline Huffman) sell the verse well, and the American Chamber Winds, under conductor David A. Waybright, contribute a sharply etched, arrestingly characterized reading of the score, with Summit's close-up miking giving the players a tangible immediacy.

-- Joe Banno

By Anne Midgette  |  July 26, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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