Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Oedipus Rex
PERFORMER: Gabriele Schnaut (soprano), Peter Svensson, Ruben Amoretti (tenor), Franz Grundheber (baritone), Günther von Kannen, Rudolf Rosen (bass), Jean Piat (speaker), Lydia Mordkovitch (violin), Geoffrey Tozer, Boris Berman (piano)Lausanne Pro Arte Choir, Brassus
At first sight, this appears an unusual undertaking. As a Stravinsky collection it is not complete in any given genre (why Petrushka but none of the other early ballets? why the major symphonies but not the Symphonies of Wind Instruments?), but derives from the repertoire of a series of concerts given in Geneva last June and July – according to the CD booklets the works were recorded ‘at rehearsals’ for these concerts.


It must be said from the start that there is no sense of being a rehearsal in the finished product, nor is there any indication of the intensity of the recording/rehearsal period with regard to the number of works covered. Järvi may seem to be conducting every other CD that comes out these days, but there is rarely one that fails to hit home, and the present ones are no exception.

The set has been issued to mark the Suisse Romande Orchestra’s 75th birthday and is available either separately (at full price) or boxed together at a reduced price. Given the orchestra’s early and lifelong association with Stravinsky’s music, it seems entirely appropriate to celebrate the anniversary with this particular repertoire, especially since, thanks to Chandos’s lucid recording as much as the players’ own achievements, the orchestra has rarely sounded in such good form on disc.


Järvi’s Oedipus Rex brushes aside Stravinsky’s alienating effects to bring out its more operatic qualities: rarely has it come across in so theatrical a way, or has the tragedy been so tangible (even the usually squally soprano Gabriele Schnaut is bearable as Jocasta). There is plenty of vigour and drama too in the purely orchestral works. I cannot recall the Neo-classical Symphony in C, for example, sounding so Beethovenian (maybe too heavily so for some tastes), while the jazz-influenced Symphony in Three Movements has real rhythmic bite. The myriad orchestral colours of Petrushka and the symphonic poem The Song of the Nightingale glisten in the Chandos sound and have plenty of atmosphere as well as dramatic tension. Perhaps the most purely enjoyable performance in the whole set, though, is Lydia Mordkovitch’s account of the Violin Concerto, an interpretation full of wit and verve. Matthew Rye