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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rite of Spring (1912) [31.58]
The Nightingale, opera in one act (1914) [44.30]
The Nightingale: Olga Trifonova (soprano)
The Fisherman: Robert Tear (tenor)
The Cook: Pippa Longworth (soprano)
The Emperor of China: Paul Whelan (bass-baritone)
The Chamberlain: Stephen Richardson (bass)
The Bonze, Chaplain to the Emperor: Andrew Greenan (baritone)
Death: Sally Burgess (alto)
Japanese Envoys 1 and 3: Peter Hall (tenor)
Japanese Envoy 2: Simon Preece (bass)
Courtiers: London Voices, prepared by Terry Edwards
The Rite: London Symphony Orchestra/Robert Craft
The Nightingale: Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
rec. Abbey Road Studio 1, 1-4 July 1995 (Rite); 14-17 Aug 1997 (Nightingale). DDD.
NAXOS 8.557501 [76.28]



The inherent contrast between the works presented here appeals to me: The Rite of Spring, cause of the most notorious musical riots in history and The Nightingale taking as its subject the seductive power of music. Original programming at least, even if the contrast was unintentional on Naxos’s part.

I can take or leave The Rite of Spring to be honest – it’s one of those works that I know is a turning-point in music, but it just does not move me. Stravinsky might have been “the vessel through which The Rite passed”, but I don’t particularly revere him because of it. There are other works that stimulate those feelings to a far greater extent: Symphony of Psalms, for instance. But stuck with The Rite we are.

Naxos has done fine service in reissuing important recordings by Robert Craft of late. Many, like myself, may well have invested in the Petrushka and Firebird pairing, so might be tempted by this Rite to complete the trio of great Stravinskian ballets on a shoestring budget.

Craft’s conducting is obviously experienced and direct, his flow more angular than jazzy and he lays bare the structure of the work reasonably well. In this last point he is no doubt aided by the clear and suitably close and analytical recording, originally made for Koch International. Throughout, the LSO bring weight and full-blooded vigour to a performance that doesn’t pull many punches. Particularly impressive are the brass and percussion in Ritual of the Rival Tribes (track 5) in building dense and dark sonorities. A resounding climax is reached in the Sacrificial Dance (track 12), which for some may seem a trifle well mannered. For all the noise I missed slightly the element of reckless abandon that should come into things.

As a complete contrast comes the wholly lyrical Nightingale, which is not to deny that it contains episodes founded on rhythmic interplay and emotional outburst. Through the orchestration’s rich colouring, which Craft patiently brings out, it should be recognised that this is an opera where the accompaniment carries almost equal weight to the voices. More than before I noticed the extent to which Stravinsky treats the two in parallel – scaling and texturing according to the nature of the drama.

Craft’s direction is dramatic too where it is needed, incisive and reflects obvious affection for the score – responding, I would think, as much to the subject as the music itself. The recorded acoustic is natural, and nicely reverberant around the basses and percussion whilst allowing the brass to have their due presence. Woodwinds too, oboes particularly, are atmospherically caught.

The cast is without a weak link: Trifonova takes the title role with an admirable mix of precision and feeling. Robert Tear uses his nasal tenor to good effect as the fisherman, and Paul Whelan’s Emperor exudes a real otherworldly presence (scene 3, backed by the chorus of the ghosts) which contrasts well with his more commanding tone earlier on. Sally Burgess has a strong grip as Death, and all others are well executed. The London Voices may be counted as luxuriously responsive casting for the chorus parts.

When it’s realised to this artistic level The Nightingale shows itself to be without doubt one of the few twentieth century one-acters deserving of a place in the repertoire. Many works could be overshadowed by The Rite of Spring but not this opera. Backed as this performance is by Craft’s notes, singer biographies and the complete text in Russian and English this release is a strong contender for any collection. Whichever work you buy it for this is another Naxos bargain – and long may they continue coming.

Evan Dickerson



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