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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Oedipus Rex (1927 rev. 1948) [51.47]
Symphony of Psalms (1930 rev. 1948) [21.27]
Jean Desailly - Le speaker
Ivo Židek - Oedipe

Vera Soukupová - Jocaste
Karel Berman - Créon
Eduard Haken - Tirésias
Zdeněk Kroupa - Le messager

Antonín Zlesák - Le berget
Prague Philharmonic Choir/Josef Veselka
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl

rec. 1963, 1965, Prague. ADD
Karel Ančerl Gold Edition vol. 14

SUPRAPHON SU 3674-2 211 [73.31]


It seems to be my misfortune not to have tackled any of the Ančerl Gold series before now. This is the 14th disc in the Karel Ančerl Gold Edition. Incredibly for such forty year old analogue originals the background noise is, to all intents and purposes, silent. The intrinsic sound seems to me to be in full possession of its original earthily vigorous qualities as represented by those often disdained Supraphon LPs of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the two works here Stravinsky's mighty choral empire is never in doubt. These pieces although having soloists in the case of Oedipus Rex are best known for their choral heft. Jaroslav Holecek's essay on Ančerl is standard across the Gold Edition. Holecek is absolutely right to identify the precision of these readings and the many others Ančerl led in the 1960s. Listen to these clear-cut pieces and be impressed afresh by the cleanly sculpted blocks of sound, the confident striking of stances and the granitic stele-gestures. The blurting brass in Oedipe's first aria (9.34 tr. 1) is a good example. Jean Desailly's resoundingly delivered oration - absolutely critical to the work - is as much to be relished as the singing of Zidek, Soukupová and Berman. The tactfully unhinged clarinet solo under Soukupová's 'orakula oraku'la, mentita sunt oracula' is memorable. The composer and Ančerl relish the rattle and definition of the sung Latin which inevitably prompts memories of Orff's Carmina Burana.

The Symphony of Psalms is a work of serious mien exactly as with Oedipus Rex. Both are works of the 1920s but are far removed (except in clarity of orchestration) from the 1920s Pulcinella. The Symphony (also in the composer-conducted version in Sony's Stravinsky Edition as part of a 2CD set of the Complete Symphonies on SM2K 46 294) is in three movements each twice the length of the last one with the first being just over three minutes. Again the vivid address of the recording and performance is memorable - try in track 5 the rolling rasp of the horns at 5.35.

These two recordings are products of the 1960s as are Stravinsky's own recordings. His are in the Sony Igor Stravinsky Edition. The Ančerl and Stravinsky timings are within a minute of each other. In the Sony Oedipus Rex (SM2K 46300 - part of a 2CD set of the oratorios and melodramas) the narration is given by John Westbrook recorded long before he cornered the market in orations in British works.

In the Stravinsky-conducted Symphony of Psalms the sound and the performance have a greedy, edge-of-seat eagerness not quite attained by the Ančerl splendid though it is. Both Ančerl and the composer equally well articulate the persistent Bachian ‘drip’ of the Expectans Expectavi. Where Ančerl scores is in the more colossal sound of the Prague choir and in the sharper playing of the Czech Phil over the CBC Symphony. So far as the Canadian choir is concerned Elmer Iseler is no slouch (as we know from his recordings of various monumentally impressive pieces by Healy Willan including Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts) but the density of tone is no match for Veselka's choir. On the other hand, the precise coordination of word production by the probably smaller Canadian choir is admirable. Stravinsky's choir in Oedipus Rex cannot quite banish their Washington DC accents which I found impaired the weight of tone; I grant you that tastes will vary on this point. The Supraphon tapes date from 1963 and 1965 as against Sony's from 1961 and 1963. John Westbrook, a name familiar from EMI recordings of Bliss's Morning Heroes and Vaughan Williams' Oxford Elegy, orates in English as against Desailly's authentic French. The Stravinsky team of solo singers are no match for the Ančerl-assembled team.

The disc is in gold; the card sleeve also consistent with the Ancerl series which when fully issued will run to 42 volumes.

The disc is fully recommendable unless you must have le dernier cri in recorded sound. Here are two monuments of the 1960s, recorded during the composer’s lifetime and indispensable to an appreciation of Stravinsky’s grip on the imagination of the musical public.

Rob Barnett


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