WORKS: L’Orestie d’Eschyle
PERFORMER: Lori Phillips, Dan Kempson, Sidney Outlaw, Sophie Delphis, Brenda Rae, Tamara Mumford, Jennifer Lane, Julianna Di Giacomo, Kristin Eder; Orpheus Singers; UMS Choral Union; University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble, Chamber Choir, University Choir & Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Kiesler
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660349-51
Best remembered for the ballet scores Le boeuf sur le toit and La création du monde, Darius Milhaud composed prolifically and in all genres, though most of his output has fallen into neglect. Such has certainly been the fate of the vast sequences of incidental music he composed between 1913 and 1923 for his friend Paul Claudel’s reworkings of three tragedies by Aeschylus, which increased in size and scope to the point where the last, Les euménides, feels like a concert opera.
Grand forces are involved, too, with soloists (some of whom speak over the music), choruses (sometimes employed in rhythmic chanting), a large percussion ensemble and orchestra, the result creating a kind of antique effect with modern techniques and instruments – a bit like a precursor to Birtwistle in some of his works inspired by Greek myth. It is nevertheless Stravinsky’s Rite (rather than his Oedipus Rex, which might have been a useful model) that lies in the harmonic background.
But Milhaud’s triptych is worryingly uneven, with some genuinely impressive episodes (the ending packs a real punch) amid others whose starkness and monumentalism verge on the drab. It’s certainly a bold choice for the non-professional orchestral and choral forces of the University of Michigan under Kenneth Kiesler, who provide a decent to good account of static, dignified pieces that really need all the help they can get. It’s not quite enough, even with engaged performances from the soloists, while the recording sounds enclosed and lacking in an ideal clarity.