Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale

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COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: The Soldier’s Tale
PERFORMER: Christopher Lee (narrator)Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Lionel Friend
CATALOGUE NO: Nl 5063 DDD
Growing public interest in ‘the spoken word’ has led Nimbus to reissue these two CDs, recorded in the mid to late Eighties, as a double cassette (NC 1799) narrated by the man most people associate with Count Dracula.

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The two pieces are very different – Peter and the Wolf no more than a fairy story that also serves as a beginner’s guide to the orchestra, whereas The Soldier’s Tale resonates with ghastly Faustian echoes, as the hapless soldier falls prey to the devil’s lure of matchless wealth in return for his humble violin.

Both these recordings suffer from Nimbus’s otherwise irreproachable dedication to ‘natural’ recording techniques. The juxtaposition of spoken voice and music is one of the few art forms where the recorded medium offers significant advantages over live performance. But with the narrator clearly in the same acoustic space as the orchestra, this potential has not been exploited. The reverberation so crucial to the music serves only to colour the speech with a superfluous declamatory grandeur. It is a pity, because Christopher Lee reads the texts with panache.

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Of the two, the Prokofiev works better, largely because the speech is less dramatic and there is less of it in relation to the music. The sparse orchestration of The Soldier’s Tale and the preponderance of dialogue would have been favoured by a radically different recording technique. Christopher Lambton