Stravinsky: Le rossignol; Renard

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Le rossignol; Renard
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Marie McLaughlin, Vsevolod Grivnov, Laurent Naouri; Choirs & Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris/James Conlon
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56874 2
What an extraordinary piece Le rossignol is! It straddles the period which saw the most cataclysmic change in Stravinsky’s composing career. Started in 1908 when he was still a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, it was put aside when Diaghilev commissioned the young unknown to write The Firebird for his Ballets Russes. By the time he took it up again in 1914, Petrushka and The Rite had been born, and Stravinsky was the star of the Parisian beau-monde; music had changed for ever. Based on Hans Andersen’s tale of the nightingale who saves the emperor through singing, the short opera (or ballet? Stravinsky couldn’t decide) starts in the perfumed atmosphere of Russian fin de siècle with whiffs of Debussy, moves through the bell-tinted exoticism of the Chinese court to the sparse, sickly sound-world of the scene with death. Stravinsky never again conjured up such magical orchestral sounds.

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This new recording is dominated by the superb playing of the Paris Opera orchestra for a stylish James Conlon (fabulous tangy winds), and the entrancing Nightingale of Natalie Dessay, who brings more melting tenderness to the part than any of her rivals. There is very good support from a (mainly) Russian cast. Now that Boulez’s recording has gone, this set has the field to itself and becomes the new benchmark – the only rivals being Cluytens (ancient), Stravinsky (authentic but abrasive) and Robert Craft (unevenly sung and over-resonantly recorded). A terrific Renard acts as a coupling. The recording is good but slightly boxy.