Igor Stravinsky (Russia, 1882-1971) and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (French-speaking Swiss, 1878-1947) collaborated to write L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale); Stravinsky took care of the music, and Ramuz handled the text. It was first published in 1918 and is based on the Russian folk tale The Runaway Soldier and the Devil. It is to be “read, played, and danced” by three actors, one or more dancers, and a septet of instruments: clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, percussion, violin, and double bass.

Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky explained to the audience that the original text “didn’t do justice to the music.” So, he reworked Stravinsky’s own arrangement for violin, clarinet, and piano into an arrangement for violin, clarinet, piano, and percussion. This new concert version, which premiered in Moscow in 2017 with a new text from Russian poet Mikhail Uspensky, was for four musicians, three actors, two dancers, and computer animation.

Sitkovetsky’s reworking, now titled Devil, Soldier, and Violin, and translated into English by Jeremy Sams, is “To be read, played, & danced,” according to the handout at Sunday afternoon’s performance. While this presentation did not include dancers or computer animation, it did not lack in theatricality or energy.

The story is basically the same as The Soldier’s Tale as the program notes explain. “It tells the story of a common soldier, Joseph, who is also an accomplished fiddle player. While on leave from the army, he comes across the Devil, who offers him a trade: his fiddle for a mysterious book that will make him rich. Joseph eventually agrees, but — unsurprisingly — the arrangement quickly leads to misery and regret.”

On stage were six performers: musicians Kelly Burke (clarinet), Inara Zandmane (piano), Wiley Sykes (percussion), and Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin) and readers Josephus Thompson (narrator) and Henry Dixon (Solider). All of the musicians also got into the literary act: Sitkovetsky read the role of the devil, Zandmane gave the proclamation about the princess (who is ill), Burke was the princess, while Sykes was a bloke. The text is humorous and mostly in rhyme. Chuckles were heard throughout the audience often.

One difference between the original and Sitkovetsky’s arrangement is that in the former, often the speaking part takes place while music is playing. Not so in the arrangement: the speakers and the music were rarely combined.

Narrator Thompson provided the background to the unfolding story while Dixon made for a completely sympathetic soldier. Sitkovetsky was, well, a devil—beguiling and mildly evil.

The four crack musicians masterfully played the chic music with brilliance and verve. The ensemble was tight – quite a feat, given the frequent changes in meter, tempo, and challenging rhythms – and it was all done without a conductor.

Take, for example, the opening “The Soldier’s March,” which used all four musicians. Burke’s clarinet and Sitkovetsky’s violin were perfectly paired, with Zandmane laying down the march rhythm (originally given to the double bass). Toss in some syncopated drum, tambourine, and cymbal from Sykes, and you get the quirky and brilliant reorchestrated gem.

Later, Zandmane had many moments to display her technical chops, with fast runs and powerful chords. Burke’s playing was always spot on; she negotiated some fiendishly fast runs without a hitch. Sitkovetsky’s violin, or course, was usually the centerpiece of the superb music making. And Sykes’ rock-solid rhythms added punch and color.

The audience was completely taken with this fun and brilliant presentation. Kudos to the performers and to Sitkovetsky for bringing this delightful work to Greensboro.