Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Oedipus Rex
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge, Florence Quivar, James Morris, Jules Bastin, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Donald KaaschChicago SO & Chorus/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 435 872-2 DDD
There are readily identifiable touchstones of a good Oedipus: the right kind of tenor (a rare phenomenon: Stravinsky wanted a lyric tenor, but he needs strength as well); a sharp, dramatic Speaker; and of course forceful but disciplined conducting.

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Levine’s recording passes these tests, if not always with flying colours. Langridge is a superb Oedipus, flexible and evasive in the early arias, very clear and precise later on, but throughout accurate and controlled. Of all Stravinsky’s own Oedipuses, he most resembles Simoneau. Since we no longer breed Melchiors or Wunderlichs, one can hardly hope to hear better Stravinsky singing from a tenor.

Levine’s performance is by no means quick, but it has urgency and power and – incredible though it might seem – metronomic discipline. For instance he observes, more or less, the proportional tempi of the Messenger/Shepherd scene. The ‘Lux facta est’ is suitably hushed, the final scene magnificent, overwhelmingly dramatic, and a fitting climax to a splendiferous display by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In some earlier scenes more impetus would not have come amiss. But I like very much Quivar’s richly modulated Jocasta – full tone without wobble. Tiresias and Creon are also good. The recording is big, spacious, Levinian.

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The (French) Speaker, Bastin, follows the Cocteau tradition, including recognisable mannerisms, but without Cocteau’s remorseless brilliance. A singer here is probably almost as much a mistake as a film star. An intelligent, musical, actor is indispensable. Stephen Walsh