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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rake’s Progress (1951)
Trulove - Stafford Dean (bass)
Anne - Cathryn Pope (soprano)
Tom Rakewell - Philip Langridge (tenor)
Nick Shadow - Samuel Ramey (baritone)
Mother Goose - Astrid Varnay (mezzo)
Baba the Turk - Sarah Walker (mezzo)
Sellem - John Dobson (tenor)
Keeper - Matthew Best (bass)
London Sinfonietta Chorus
London Sinfonietta/Riccardo Chailly
rec. 1985, London
DECCA 475 7005 [68.18 + 67.01]


Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress was first performed at La Fenice, Venice, in 1951. His librettist was W.H. Auden. The idea for the project had first arisen in 1947, when the composer saw Hogarth’s series of paintings of the same name at an exhibition in Chicago. As for his detailed plan, he explained: ‘The Rake’s Progress is cast as an 18th century number opera. The dramatic progress depends on the succession of recitatives and arias, duets and trios, choruses and instrumental interludes, a story told and enacted almost entirely in song.’ He viewed this style in terms of ‘the classical practice of separate numbers that crystallise and hold the emotion of a dramatic situation at chosen moments’.

While there is relatively little opportunity for virtuosity in the orchestral writing, the London Sinfonietta do play with what can only be described as precision and panache, with a keen pacing of the drama led by the conducting of Riccardo Chailly. The recording is helpful to the orchestral players, and to the distinguished contribution of the woodwinds in particular. The orchestral sound has a classical priority allowing for clarity of texture and a closely-knit sense of ensemble. There are also moments of dramatic power as and when required.

In this new mastering of the original the sound has emerged with more clarity and depth than previously, and this has enhanced the whole performance. The cast is well balanced and there are some distinguished contributions from a talented array of singers, all suitably selected in their roles, save perhaps for Astrid Varnay, whose impeccable Wagnerian credentials do not necessarily make her an ideal artist for the role of Mother Goose. Samuel Ramey's distinctive contribution as Nick Shadow is as fine as any interpretation in the catalogue. His vocal style makes a satisfying impression, and he conveys an immediate and lasting impression as the cunning, ingratiating personification of the devil demon, to the life. As the opera proceeds he manages to intensify the characterization of the role, transforming from initial suavity towards genuine menace, while never sacrificing his musical standards.

As the naïve and vulnerable Anne Trulove, Cathryn Pope conveys a sense of charm and youthfulness. The lyricism of the part is always brought to the fore, to the extent that one might argue that this stylistic affectation is overdone. On the other hand, Stafford Dean as Trulove makes a marvellous foil to her, however, exuding fatherly experience at every turn. Then heading the cast comes Philip Langridge's performance as the Rake himself, Tom Rakewell. This is excellent: wholly sympathetic and technically assured. The most demanding aspect of the role, of course, comes when it is necessary to convey the character’s descent into madness, and this is remarkably achieved.

The set is nicely packaged in a presentation box, and there is a full libretto, albeit in tiny print. Another downside is the dearth of other documentation. There is no lack of information about this opera and it is disappointing that the booklet contains only the list of characters, the various cue points, and the libretto.

Terry Barfoot






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