Robert Craft

Stravinsky: The Composer, Vol. 3: Perséphone

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Twenty five years after the composition of Perséphone, Robert Craft asked Stravinsky about the use of music to accompany recitation. Apparently thinking of Perséphone, his only work to use music in this manner, Stravinsky replied, "Do not ask. Sins cannot be undone, only forgiven." One feels he is talking about more than merely Perséphone's use of a speaker: given the immense difficulties Stravinsky had with Andre Gide, the author of the text, and the cold reception the work received at its premiere, one feels Stravinsky thought of the whole Perséphone as the sin that could not be undone and not merely his setting of portions of it as accompanied recitative.

Even Robert Craft's apparently deeply felt performance of the work with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Gregg Smith Singers, and the Newark Boys Chorus does not redeem Stravinsky's sin. Lacking the dramatic power of Oedipus Rex and the musical cogency of the Symphony of Psalms, the faithful Craft cannot impose either drama of cogency on Perséphone. His performance, like the work itself, sprawls across its three parts, with passages of incredible beauty strewn through page after page of tedium. Although Craft's is a fine performance of Perséphone, eclipsing Stravinsky's own recording, it is still a dull and dreary work. Oddly enough, the only unqualified success in the performance is Irène Jacob's recitations. With her beautifully modulated tone and expressive delivery, the star of The Double Life of Veronique gives Perséphone its only truly affecting moments.

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