I spend as little time with recordings as I can, but a recent gift of the Sony boxed set of 22 cds worth of Stravinsky-led Stravinsky has provided an excuse for an all-Stravinsky marathon. Boy, with very few exceptions (and maybe only The Flood, at that), this is all renewable music. Both the music itself and the fields of association around the music are incredibly rich, with each new listening suggesting new paths in and out of the music. I'm particularly struck this time by how useful irony is to Stravinsky in creating this manifold if not open-ended quality. Neither Viennese expressionism nor Russian mid-20th century musical sarcasm have this particular power.
It's probably not good to play favorites with so much good stuff, but I am very taken with the disk which included the ballets Apollo, Agon, and Jeux des Cartes. Agon has always been a favorite — with its crispy and splittered orchestration, so well-made for nimble feet (those galliards, those bransles!) — and Jeux des Cartes is a romp with amazing, almost non-sequitorial, roll-offs and flourishes for the various shuffles and gambits (I've never been sure whether the game described should be more in the style of Lewis Carroll or of Ian Fleming). But this time, it is Apollo that captured me. There is something naive, almost artless about surface here, but Stravinsky always manages to pull in something unexpected, if only the smallest bit of uncanny voice leading. And likewise, although the string ensemble initially appears a neutral, plain, a monochromatic white even — the score, a ballet blanc, after all, is full of white space — by the middle of the variations (in which Apollo partners with each of three muses in turn), the ensemble comes to seem almost too bright, too colorful. The whole is refined yet radiant, completely in keeping with the title character.