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Len Mullenger:

Xenakis Oresteia   Choirs and ensemble, with Spiros Sakkas (baritone) and Sylvio Gualda (percussion) Salabert SCD 8906 49'25"

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This CD is reviewed in connection with the recent revival at the re-opened Royal Opera House (reviewed in Seen&Heard January 2000). It is a major work of a unique genre. Xenakis looks to Japanese No theatre for an equivalent to the lost Byzantine traditions, with poetry, voice treatment, dance and music combined. His instruments and the movement of sound sources transform the classical tragedy into 'a kind of magical liturgy'. It made a stupendous impression staged at the Linbury Theatre Studio under Guy Protheroe's direction and, years before, in concert performance at the Almeida Festival, with the same the extraordinary Greek baritone (who also screeches in high falsetto) representing Kassandra, the prophetess of doom, as on this CD.

The recording, taken from performances in a Strasbourg church during the 1987 Musica Festival, is resonant and atmospheric. To my ears, it is beautiful, though in a harsh manner, the instruments dominated by brass and percussion, with growling contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon - great, even if some members of the audience at the Opera House departed before the end, short though it is. As Charles Ives said, you need your ears on the right way (or something like that).

A word about presentation. The CD has synopses and a good introduction to this 'harsh celebration of the birth of human justice' but no words or translations, which is regrettable. The Covent Garden programme does have English texts running to eight columns (which opera goers would be unlikely to digest in the interval) and it was played in the dark with no sur-titles. Read again with the CD, they don't quite fit - quite a lot missing, I guess? A pity they couldn't get their act together, and also make this CD available for purchase at the theatre; a rarity, unlikely to be found in the shops, which might have sold like hot cakes. I love it, but you have been warned!


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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