Tcherepnin: Narcisse et Echo

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COMPOSERS: Tcherepnin
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Narcisse et Echo
PERFORMER: Hague Chamber Choir, Residentie Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9670
‘Not an important ballet, with very inferior music.’ So said Marie Rambert (quoted by John Drummond in his book Speaking of Diaghilev) of this neglected work. Commissioned by Diaghilev for the 1911 season of the Ballets Russes, Narcisse et Echo was contrived as a vehicle for Karsavina and Nijinsky, but was damned by the critics, perhaps principally because Fokin’s choreography requires Narcissus to remain rooted to one spot, gazing at his reflection, for the last 15 minutes.

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Whatever its failure as a ballet, it is an interesting, subtly evocative piece of music, if the atmosphere is at times somewhat syrupy and anaemic: Bacchus’s acolytes and satyrs can rarely have sounded less debauched. Though the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov (with whom Tcherepnin studied) is discernible in the colouring of the orchestration, and of Stravinsky in the tremulous violin sound with which the ballet begins and ends, its mood is prevailingly French, suggesting with its obbligato, wordless chorus, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, which was premiered the following year by the same company.

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In this premiere recording, Rozhdestvensky conjures an appropriately Elysian mood, with a diaphanous string sound, Pan-piping woodwind and delicate percussion and brass. The wordless choral singing, too, is finely expressive and especially effective in the scene where Narcissus’s call is echoed, inevitably, by Echo. Claire Wrathall