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Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Les Noces - Gergiev

Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Les Noces - Gergiev

Mariinsky  MAR0510

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical


Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Les Noces

Les Noces:
Mlada Khudoley soprano
Olga Savova mezzo-soprano
Alexander Timchenko tenor
Andrei Serov bass
Alexander Mogilevsky piano
Svetlana Smolina piano
Yulia Zaichkina piano
Maxim Mogilevsky piano

Oedipus Rex:
Gérard Depardieu, Narrator
Sergei Semishku Oedipus, tenor
Ekaterina Sememchuk Jocasta, mezzo-soprano
Evgeny Nikitin Creon, bass-baritone
Mikhail Petrenko Tiresias, bass
Evgeny Nikitin Messenger, bass-baritone
Alexander Timchenko Sheperd, tenor

Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Valery Gergiev (conductor)


Less than four years separate the premieres of Les Noces and Oedipus Rex, yet they each represent high-points in two distinct phases of Stravinsky's career.

Although the concept of Les Noces is highly innovative – a 'dance cantata' – the music remains rooted in Russian folk traditions. Choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska and dedicated to Diaghilev, whose Ballet Russes gave the premiere, it marks the crowning glory of Stravinsky's so-called 'second Russian period'.

The opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex is the first great work of Stravinsky's neoclassical period. It was a major change in his compositional style, influenced in part by the loss of 'Russian identity' following his emigration. It is sung in Latin with Jean Cocteau's original French narration spoken here by Gérard Depardieu.

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Review by Graham Williams - June 1, 2010

Gergiev’s first Stravinsky recordings on the Mariinsky label prove, in spite of an interesting coupling, to be something of a mixed blessing. They comprise two of the composer’s most original and striking works, the dance cantata ‘Les Noces’ and the opera-oratorio ‘Oedipus Rex’.

Stravinsky conceived the idea of a choral score based on the theme of a Russian peasant wedding as early as 1912 and of the next few years explored different instrumental combinations to accompany the vocal part that he left unchanged. Eventually he settled on the four pianos and ten percussion instruments that gives the piece its quite distinctive sound world, one that was to influence such composers from Prokofiev and Orff to Messiaen and Steve Reich.
Thanks not least to his authentic Russian forces; Gergiev gives a thrilling account of this work. He drives the music forward with great rhythmic impetus and precision and his well-prepared Mariinsky Chorus sing their hearts out. Apart from the rather abrasive and unsteady soprano of Mlada Khudoley the soloists are authentically forthright. The balance between soloists, chorus and instrumental ensemble is fine, but the recording (made this time by Classic Sound not Soundmirror) has captured much less of the ambience and depth of the Mariinsky Concert Hall than on previous issues from this label - more of this later.

‘Oedipus Rex’ dates from 1927 during the composer’s ‘neo-classical’ period. The French libretto by Jean Cocteau is, with the exception of the narrator’s words, sung in Latin translation and this, together with Stravinsky’s scoring gives the whole work an austere and impersonal quality. Gergiev and his orchestra give a detailed and imposing account of the score, but his soloists are disappointingly variable. Sergei Semishkur’s Oedipus sounds out of sorts in his opening solo though he improves later on. Ekaterina Semenchuck is an imperious and commanding Jocasta, but one with little vocal allure, and the usually reliable Mikhail Petrenko is an unimpressive Tiresias. The choice of Gérard Depardieu as narrator in ‘Oedipus Rex’ was an inspired decision. His clear diction and dramatic unfolding of the terrible events of the story is gripping in each of his six appearances. Depardieu’s voice is clearly recorded in the same acoustic space as the soloists, chorus and orchestra, but in the 5.1 MC mix the central image of his voice is created only by the left and right front speakers The centre and rear channels are completely switched off while he is speaking. This leads one to question whether Classic Sound created all the surround channels artificially from a stereo mix, something that might account for the overall less-than-impressive sound on this disc compared with that on other Mariinsky releases.

The presentation of the disc is of a high standard. A 79-page booklet that provides the texts in Cyrillic and English for ‘Les Noces’ and Cyrillic, Latin, English and French for ‘Oedipus Rex’ accompanies it.

Copyright © 2010 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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