Notes and Editorial Reviews
Esa-Pekka Salonen leads a dream-team of A-list soloists with world-class chorus and orchestra in a top-notch reading of Stravinsky’s ground-breaking “operatorio.”
Composed in 1925 and first staged in 1928, ‘Oedipus Rex’ was the first wholly original large-scale work in Stravinsky’s mature neo-classical style. The approach to choral and orchestral writing first heard here would remain very much the same for the next 25 years; more than mere echoes of ‘Oedipus’ can be heard in such well-known works as ‘Symphony of Psalms’ (1930), “Symphony in C’ (1940), Mass (1948), and the brilliant, Hogarth-inspired opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’ (1951).
Stravinsky wanted to write, as he put it, “an opera or an oratorio on a
universally familiar subject (so as to) concentrate the whole attention of the audience undistracted by the story, on the music itself, which would thus become both word and action.” To this end, the French libretto by Jean Cocteau was translated into Latin; “The idea was that a text for music might be endowed with a certain monumental character by translation ‘backwards’ so to speak from a secular to a sacred language.”
That “monumental character” is very much in evidence in Salonen’s expansive reading, beautifully recorded with Sony’s 20-bit digital technology in Stockholm’s Berwald Hall in May of 1991.
Lyric tenor Vinson Cole is a superbly compelling Oedipus, convincingly portraying the whole gamut of emotion while handling Stravinsky’s virtuosic vocal writing with ease. Some may find his characterization a little too understated at times, but he is invariably “on” musically, bringing lots of songful angst to the role of the doomed king. Likewise, Anne Sofie von Otter is a passionate and wholly persuasive Jocasta, imbuing her part with enormous beauty and conviction.
As Kreon, the great baritone Simon Estes imbues the part with much weight and lyric force in spite of his somewhat limited expressive palette. More affecting and subtle is his turn in the small role of the Messenger late in the piece.
Famed Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda as the Shepherd, and the always-superb Hans Sotin as Tiresias both shine in their small roles. Gedda has a little difficulty with intonation in the fiendishly difficult aria ‘Opertebat tacere,’ while Sotin seems a bit weak at the low-end of his range in ‘Dicere non possum;’ but both turn in beautifully expressive and memorably dramatic performances here.
Perhaps the real star of this recording is the chorus; the men of the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir are nothing short of miraculous! Just listen to the hair-raising ‘Gloria Gloria’ chorus accompanying Jocasta’s entrance in Act 2, or the powerful opening chorus of Act 1, ‘Caedit nos pestis.’ As in the original Greek tragedies, Stravinsky conceived the choral part as a character unto itself, and not as an ancillary or subsidiary component of the drama (as in almost any 18th or 19th-century opera) and his conception is realized here with stunning effect.
Only one small complaint; the beautiful narration (in Jean Cocteau’s original French) may leave some English-speaking listeners out in the cold, especially as the libretto is almost impossible to follow in the awkward four-language format provided by Sony. But don’t let such a small thing deter you from enjoying this gem of a performance, certainly not when it’s available at so reasonable a price! Highly recommended!
Jerald Thomas Hawhee (10/28/03) Read less
Works on This Recording
Oedipus rex by Igor Stravinsky
Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano),
Vinson Cole (Tenor),
Hans Sotin (Bass),
Simon Estes (Bass Baritone),
Patrice Chéreau (Spoken Vocals),
Nicolai Gedda (Tenor)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Eric Ericson Chamber Choir,
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1926-1927; France
Date of Recording: 05/1991
Venue: Berwald Hall, Stockholm, Sweden
Length: 49 Minutes 59 Secs.
Be the first to review this title