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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Oedipus Rexa (1927) [52'21]; Les Nocesb (1923) [24'10]
Edward Fox (speaker). aAlison Wells (soprano); aJennifer Lane, bSusan Bickley (mezzos); Martyn Hill, Joseph Corenwella (tenors); David Wilson-Johnsona (bass-baritone); aAndrew Greenan (bass); Alan Ewingb (basso profundo); Simon Joly Chorus a; Simon Joly Choraleb; International Piano Quartet b; Tristan Fry Percussion Ensemble b; Philharmonia Orchestra a/Robert Craft.
Rec. Studio One, Abbey Road, London in aJune and on bJanuary 8th-9th, 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.557499 [76'31]

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The recent performances of these very two works at the Barbican with Mariinsky forces rather takes the edge off the enthusiasm this review might otherwise have exuded.

These are reissues of Koch material, and are packaged in rather a strange way. Perhaps careless is the word I'm after. Texts and translations are included although the English narrator of Oedipus does not always read out exactly what is printed. The notes are by Robert Craft. There is no indication as to who sings what in which piece, leaving one to work out the roles for oneself.

The performances themselves are more than adequate, less than inspired. The recording is good, however, handling the climaxes with ease.

One of the major problems of this Oedipus is that the chorus, far from sounding monumental in a 'neutral' language (Latin), just sounds English. The choral cries of 'Serva nos' ('Show us') are convincing, but overall the Simon Joly Male Chorus is average ... certainly in comparison with Gergiev's forces. The cries of 'Salve Tiresia! Salve!' are merely half-hearted.

Jennifer Lane is a very un-Russian Jocasta, as her aria, 'Nonne erubescite, reges,' demonstrates to a tee. She is better in her later duet with Oedipus, but her lower register seems weak.

The close of the work is fairly exciting but does not fully convey the heart-rending conflicting emotions present.

Les Noces sung in Russian, fares better even if the booklet seems to think we go back to track 1 here, whereas it actually it begins at track 7. Alison Wells' Bride has a lovely sound. There is a slight sluggishness throughout though, perhaps because rhythms are not as razor-tight as they have to be in this work.

There is some - to me - off-putting close-miking of voices, although the recording does pick up the punchiness of the excellent percussion. The parents' lament in Scene 2 works well, and there is some nice pointing of rhythms as the singers invoke St Luke to bless the marriage later in the same scene.

The recording allows for good definition of the various vocal groups in the brief third scene - a mere three minutes long - and it similarly separates the strands of the complex final scene well. The bass solo right at the end is very beautiful (from 'Akh ti dushka').

Very mixed reactions to this disc, then.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Gwyn Parry Jones

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