Valery Gergiev conducts Stravinsky

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Mariinsky
WORKS: Oedipus Rex; Les noces
PERFORMER: Gérard Depardieu (narrator), Sergei Semishkur, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Evgeny Nikitin, Mikhail Petrenko, Alexander Timchenko; Mariinsky Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR 0510

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The near-total triumph of this Oedipus Rex is surprising. Neither of Gergiev’s Barbican performances entirely worked for me, though he built up quite a lather of stylised terror in the final scene. He does so again here, but everything leading up to the dreadful denouement is vividly done, too.

A stitch or two is dropped in live performance: Mikhail Petrenko’s stentorian Tiresias needs to overlap with Oedipus’s response, but comes off too soon, and there’s a nipped phrase and an odd vowel or two from Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Jocasta. But she’s the contralto with the biggest range and lustre since Bernstein’s Troyanos, and Sergey Semishkur’s Oedipus blends clarion authority with youthful pathos. He’s especially admirable in the ultimate revelation, where Gergiev allows no sentimental slowing of pace. 

My first time hearing Stravinsky’s village wedding ritual, Les noces, sung by native Russians here induced in me a strange sensation: namely that its 20-plus minutes had lasted five or less. Examining similar Gergiev-led Mariinsky forces in the cold light of CD, I can see why – such is the racy continuity between scenes, the joyous or hieratic delivery of the phrases and proverbs.

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Not all of them are meant to be fully understood, so it seems apt if sometimes, in the most natural of acoustics, the voices are almost covered by the four-pianos-and-percussion ensemble; but all the right musical phrases shine through. Even Bernstein’s recording can’t match it for earthy authenticity. David Nice