Stravinsky: Oedipus rex

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Oedipus rex
PERFORMER: Peter Schreier, Jessye Norman, Bryn TerfelShinyukai Male Choir; Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 438 865-2 DDD
Among the recent spate of recordings of Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio, this latest contender is perhaps the least successful: a paradox, given its association with the multi-award-winning Japanese Saito Kinen Festival production (recently released on video). The greatest loss between stage and studio is the replacement of Philip Langridge (presumably because he appears on the recent DG/Levine set, reviewed in our February issue) by the far less ingratiating Peter Schreier, whose nasal and light tenor voice makes him sound more like Jocasta’s father than her son.

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Jocasta herself perhaps comes across most successfully on this disc, with Jessye Norman at her richly toned best. Bryn Terfel makes a positive impact in his single aria as Creon, despite Ozawa’s lethargic pace. The choral singing sounds a little anonymous and the playing of the Saito Kinen Orchestra too could display more in the way of character, sounding muffled and set too far back in the aural hierarchy. Ozawa underplays the elements of irony inherent in Stravinsky’s setting, but at least keeps things together in a dramatically coherent way.

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As for an alternative recommendation, Levine has the best overall cast, but the work is shorn of its hard edges by his spacious, over-smooth approach; otherwise, Neeme Järvi (Chandos) or Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony) give the most dramatically convincing accounts. Matthew Rye