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Les Noces and Oedipus Rex

available at Amazon
Stravinsky, Les Noces / Oedipus Rex, S. Semishkur, E. Nikitin,
E. Semenchuk, G. Depardieu,
Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus,
V. Gergiev

(released on June 8, 2010)
MAR 0510 | 73'49"
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater have joined the trend and formed their own personal recording label, launched last year. Their Parsifal received many admiring reviews (thoughts on that one forthcoming), and this recent disc, pairing Stravinsky's rustic wedding dance ballet Les Noces and lean, neoclassical opera Oedipus Rex, is another winner. Gergiev and his Russian musicians have a beautiful angle on Les Noces, a work whose all-percussion score of four pianos and battery is one of the most austere and rhythmically dynamic of Stravinsky's career. As he revised the original, more traditional scoring, Stravinsky was aiming for a percussive, folk-percussion kind of sound, and he experimented with an all-mechanical version for pianola and other automated instruments (a solution that he ultimately abandoned, although a Dutch reconstruction/completion of the idea was recently attempted). The frenetic nature of the work is right up Gergiev's alley, and he turns in a boisterous performance, fraying just a bit at the edges from vodka-inspired excess. At new release prices, this disc may not be the best deal, as some classic recordings of Les Noces, conducted by Bernstein and the composer himself (the former with Martha Argerich and Krystian Zimerman among the pianists, and the latter with Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Lukas Foss, and Roger Sessions at the keyboards), are cheaper (although only as part of large sets).

Stravinsky distilled the devastating Greek tragedy of Oedipus by Sophocles into a two-part short opera-oratorio of ritual tautness. With an austere orchestration and the adaptation of Cocteau translated into Latin (the sung parts, not the narration), which Stravinsky insisted be sung with a classical, not ecclesiastical pronunciation, Oedipus Rex aims to take opera back to its roots in Greek tragedy. Julie Taymor famously directed a production of the work in Japan, using elements of Nobuki theater to capture that ritual aspect of the work: it is available on DVD, and you can see a snippet of Jessye Norman's unforgettable Jocasta in the video below. Gergiev entrusts the role to the volcanic mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, who is the best part of the cast, supported by the full-throated Mariinsky Chorus. Strangely, for a Russian version of the work, Gergiev chose to have the narration read in the original French: Gérard Depardieu turns in a beautifully declaimed and affecting performance. The result is not as universally good as Gergiev's Les Noces, but worth a listen.

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