Stravinsky: Oedipus rex; Les noces

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
WORKS: Oedipus rex; Les noces
PERFORMER: Edward Fox, Martyn Hill, Jennifer Lane, Joseph Cornwell, David Wilson-Johnson, Andrew Greenan, Alison Wells, Susan Bickley, Alan Ewing; Simon Joly Male Chorus & Chorale, Tristan Fry Percussion Ensemble, Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557499
Edward Fox’s narrative drawl, sounding like a parody of patrician indifference, bodes ill for the vitality of this Oedipus rex; and so it proves. To back up his singular opera-oratorio take on Sophocles, Stravinsky declared he chose Latin as ‘a medium not dead but turned to stone’. Any worthwhile performance, however, soon creates something vital out of the seemingly frigid postures and deadly parodies of this paradoxical score; by the end of Stravinsky’s own live 1952 performance, we are reeling from the human tragedy. His amanuensis Robert Craft fails to breathe life into some superb raw material; while the Phiharmonia’s sonorities, woodwind ensemble especially, and the focused delivery of Simon Joly’s male voice chorus are handsomely recorded, the pacing of the drama remains ponderous and lacking in drama. So the singers, led by Martyn Hill’s diligent but ossified Oedipus, never really stand a chance. The bel canto which graces internationally cast Oedipuses, led by Salonen’s classy line-up on Sony, is in any case nowhere in evidence: Hill delivers Oedipus’s Verdian solo ‘Invidiat fortuna odit’ with none of the plaintive grace demanded in the score, and Jennifer Lane is hardly well supported by Craft in what Bernstein once described as Jocasta’s ‘hoochie-koochie dance’. In terms of the singing Les noces, too, gets off to a very bad start: Alison Wells’s bridal summons is, to put it mildly, a long way from the requisite clarion call to matrimony. But then this performance is all about keeping time, and never about the dancing spirit of the Russian peasant wedding. Poker-faced and unexultant, it renders another masterpiece meaningless. David Nice