This simply stunning disc contains the finest available recording of Les Noces, a performance that combines textural clarity with Slavic soul in a way unmatched by any other. Combine this with Ancerl's habitual rhythmic accuracy, toss in amazingly lifelike sonics (superbly remastered here), and you can practically copy the score down just by listening. More importantly, the work's 23 minutes prove so engrossing that the time flies by in what subjectively seems like a few mesmerizing moments. The soloists, particularly soprano Libuse Domanínská and tenor Ivo Zidek, are marvelous--but then everyone, including pianists, chorus, and percussion play with a crispness that paradoxically produces just the impression Stravinsky was after: that of improvisatory, multi-layered freedom.
The remainder of the program is no less distinguished. In the beautifully neo-classical Cantata, Ancerl has tenor Gerald English and soprano Barbara Robotham as his idiomatic soloists, while both here and in the Mass the Prague Philharmonic Choir once again demonstrates that in the 1960s it was one of the world's great vocal ensembles. It goes without saying that the playing of the Czech Philharmonic, winds especially (the Mass is scored for voices and double wind quintet), could hardly be bettered. Ancerl was, of course, a very great conductor, but even in his distinguished discography his Stravinsky recordings stand out as special. Take this one along with his coupling of the Symphony of Psalms and Oedipus Rex, and you simply can't do any better. [11/13/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com