Alan Gilbert / Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Daniel Börtz: His Name Was Orestes

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Writing an extended secular oratorio in this day and age is a quixotic enterprise for all but the most renowned or well-connected composers; the genre, which requires soloists, chorus, and orchestra, is expensive to produce and is not much in favor with orchestras and audiences. Daniel Börtz, one of Sweden's leading composers, has the standing with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra to be able to bring off large projects like his 90-minute oratorio His Name Was Orestes, even though the piece is unlikely to have much international currency. It's an entirely respectable work, using a comprehensible harmonic language with a conventional, shapely dramatic arc, and music that matches the moods of the text, which is mostly very dark. The oratorio rewards close attention with its intelligence, inventive orchestration, dramatically evocative tone painting, and lyrical, skillful text setting, not surprising qualities from as successful an opera composer as Börtz has proven to be. As musically imaginative as the oratorio is, though, it tells its very extensive story (a condensation of the three plays of Aeschylus' Oresteia) so episodically that it ultimately fails to generate much human interest in its sketchily drawn characters. Some gripping musical highlights include the encounter between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Cassandra's poignant prophecy and lament, and the chorus that opens the second section. The set also includes a fine performance of Börtz's recorder concerto, whose tone is surprisingly dark given its title of A Joker's Tales. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, led by Alan Gilbert, perform the oratorio with commitment and passion. The vocal soloists are consistently excellent and bring a real sense of drama to the work. The sound of BIS' live recording is lively and clear, with good balance.

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