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Reviews: Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex & Apollon musagète - Gardiner

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Site review by Castor April 10, 2014
Performance:   Sonics:  
The pairing of two of Stravinsky's finest neoclassical works, one instrumental and one vocal, makes for a most satisfying programme on disc when performed as splendidly as on this LSO Live SACD. This recording made in April 2013, was taken from one of the many concerts organised to celebrate the 70th birthday of the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

For Stravinsky's opera-oratorio 'Oedipus Rex' Gardiner has assembled a superb group of soloists . In addition, he has his matchless Monteverdi Choir as the male voiced chorus and the LSO in blistering form. Stuart Skelton gives a wonderfully nuanced performance of the title role, his portrayal most effectively characterising Oedipus's journey from hubris to anguish. Jennifer Johnson, a voice new to me, is a magnificent Jocasta, who, with her secure and authoritative delivery, brings an almost Verdian line to her Act 2 aria whilst Gidon Saks is a forthright Creon. The three smaller roles of Tiresias, Shepherd and Messenger are taken by members of the Monteverdi Choir, amongst whom the fine bass of David Shipley (Tiresias) is especially noteworthy.
The French actress Fanny Ardant, familiar to many from her performances in the films of such distinguished directors as Truffaut, Resnais and Lelouch, to name but three, is a riveting narrator, who delivers Cocteau's line's with conviction and absolute clarity. From her opening words “ Spectateurs, vous allez entendre une version latine d'Oedipe-roi” one's attention is grabbed and held.

Gardiner captures to the full the searing drama underlying the work's stylized exterior, and from the thrilling attack of the opening chorus the listener is gripped by the power of his interpretation of this masterpiece. The LSO are in magnificent form – their incisive brass, skeltering woodwind and weighty percussion thrillingly captured by the recording. The liner notes include the full Latin text and English translation.

This SACD is completed by an equally fine rendition of Stravinsky's 1928 ballet 'Apollon musagète' – or 'Apollo' as the composer later preferred to call it – performed in its revised version of 1947.The music of this ballet has a calm, delicate and transparent beauty to which the strings of the LSO do full justice. The sound is exceptionally well balanced with every instrumental line sharply delineated yet at the same time beautifully integrated in the tuttis.

In both works the engineers (Jonathan Stokes and Nicholas Parker) have used the usually difficult Barbican acoustic to the music's advantage. The multi-channel 5.0 recording (no mention anywhere of DSD) has the clarity and impact one might expect, but also a modicum of warmth and bloom that makes 'Apollo' especially easy on the ear.

A most recommendable release.

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