Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress

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If this 2006 Great Opera Performances reissue is your first exposure to Igor Stravinsky's neo-Classical opera The Rake's Progress (1951), postpone listening to it until you've heard a good contemporary recording or two. Stravinsky's first account, recorded at the opera's premiere in Venice on September 11, 1951, is somewhat faulty in performance and deficient in sound quality, and it is mostly of historical interest; it has been superseded by Stravinsky's second, masterful performance on Columbia, and a few others, including Kent Nagano's splendid rendition on Erato and John Eliot Gardiner's popular recording on Deutsche Grammophon. Though it is exciting to hear Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the original Anne Trulove and Robert Rounseville as Tom Rakewell, the most fascinating performances to follow are Otakar Kraus' suavely diabolical (if thickly accented) Nick Shadow, Jennie Tourel's delightfully grotesque Baba the Turk, and Hughes Cuénod's comically virtuosic Sellem. But Stravinsky's conducting was off, reportedly due to nerves, and the orchestra had to slow down here and there for his benefit, when it wasn't slightly off itself. Add to this the murky and often scratchy sound of the recording, the distant microphone placement, the indistinct pronunciation (a serious problem here, since this package has no libretto), the frequent drop out of instrumental parts, and the annoying use of a piano as a substitute for the harpsichord in the recitatives, and it becomes obvious that this presentation is not ideal for first-time listening. However, those who know The Rake may get something out of hearing this first recording, if only a finer appreciation of the lead roles' difficulties and the numerous pitfalls in the score.

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