Lawrence Foster

George Enescu: Oedipe

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Romanian composer George Enescu's 1931 opera Oedipe is an epic work on several levels, including its dramatic scope -- from the protagonist's birth to his death -- and in the huge performing forces it requires. It stands for the most part outside the modernist or post-Romantic operatic conventions of its time and inhabits a sound world that uses a familiar harmonic language, but in idiosyncratic ways. The composer's Romanian roots and the influences of impressionism are in strong evidence, but the work isn't easily pigeonholed; it has moments of rough folkloric primitivism, meltingly lush romanticism, elegant delicacy, and surprising experimental techniques. Oedipe was Enescu's only opera, but he shows a sure hand in the vividness of his musical characterizations and in creating dramatic tension, which the story has in abundance. The opera's finale is absolutely stunning, with wave after wave of surging, astonishing grandeur that finally subsides into an ending of breathtaking serenity. This recording, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco, and the chorus Orféon Donostiarra, conducted by Lawrence Foster, features a star-studded cast that includes José van Dam, Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Barbara Hendricks. The performance and production values for the release are exceptionally high and make a compelling case for the opera. Foster could have paced the opera's conclusion more broadly and expressively, but otherwise his reading is fully engaging. Enescu writes beautifully for the voice, and the entire large cast sings with gorgeous tone and deep conviction. Van Dam is overwhelming in the title role; he is on-stage for virtually all of the second, third, and fourth acts, and he ages convincingly from an impetuous youth to an old man. His portrayal of the troubled protagonist is warmly compassionate, and his voice is rich and searingly powerful; he has all the charisma required to pull off a memorable depiction of one of history's most famous archetypes. Most of the other roles are relatively brief, but Barbara Hendricks and Marjana Lipovsek are standouts as a sympathetic Antigone and a maniacal Sphinx. EMI's sound is full, clean, and enveloping, with excellent balance. On the basis of this exemplary recording, Oedipe clearly has the musical and dramatic values to merit serious consideration for revival by adventurous companies, and exploration by fans of modern opera.

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