Natalie Dessay / James Conlon / Franz Welser-Möst

Igor Stravinsky: Le Rossignol; Renard; Oedipus rex

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This two-disc set is a reissue of two EMI releases, a 1999 performance of Le Rossignol and Renard and a 1992 version of Oedipus Rex. There is no lack of very fine recordings of Le Rossignol (The Nightingale, 1909-1913), including those by the composer himself, Pierre Boulez, and Robert Craft, but none can boast a lead as charismatic and vocally spectacular as Natalie Dessay, who really sparkles as the Nightingale. The entire cast, in fact, is first-rate. Tenor Vsevolod Grivnov is little known in the West, but he brings a heroic, clarion tone and warmth to the role of the Fisherman. Albert Schagidullin is another unfamiliar name, but his authoritative baritone makes him a highly effective Emperor, and the smaller roles are similarly well-taken. James Conlon's reading highlights the opera's colorful orchestration and the quirkiness of its juxtapositions. His shaping of the score and his pacing for the most part are good, but the Introduction seems a little slack. The Orchestra and Chorus of l'Opéra National de Paris deliver nuanced, brilliant performances. Stravinsky describes the 15-minute Renard, based on Russian folk stories and written in 1925 and 1916, as "a burlesque tale in song and dance," and it is a curious hybrid of opera and ballet. Where the music of Le Rossignol is reminiscent of the lyricism of The Firebird, Renard, for four male soloists and chamber orchestra, is closer to the more acerbic world of Petrushka or L'histoire du soldat. The same forces turn in a snappy, perky performance of the score. EMI's sound is admirably clear and detailed, but just a little distant.

Oedipus Rex, conceived as an opera-oratorio, written in 1927 and revised in 1948, is better known than Le Rossignol, largely through a number of superb recordings. This version, featuring Franz Welser-Möst leading the London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, is very fine on its own terms but is unlikely to join the pantheon of the very finest accounts of the piece, including those of Seiji Ozawa, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Karel Ancerl. Welser-Möst doesn't conjure up the raw ferocity of the big choral moments with sufficient force, and while he is more persuasive when the work's tone of neo-classical detachment is at the fore, the whole doesn't make the impact of the most powerful performances. The soloists are very good. Anthony Rolfe Johnson sings with passion and sensitivity, but his light tenor may not have the heroic timbre ideal for the role, and occasionally his vibrato seems out of place. John Tomlinson as Creon, Alastair Miles as Tiresias, and John Mark Ainsley as the Shepherd are completely successful. As Jocasta, Marjana Lipovsek has a powerful voice, but her tone is somewhat covered. Lambert Wilson is very effective delivering the French narration. EMI's sound is clean, crisp, and present. The set includes a CD-ROM with the libretti and synopses.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Le Rossignol
1 3:30
2 3:35
3 3:14
4 3:11
5 3:27
6 2:13
7 3:35
8 4:17
9 1:19
10 3:36
11 4:03
12 2:24
13 5:17
14 1:05
15 1:28
16 0:58
17 4:40
18 2:38
19 2:53
20 3:30
21 1:50

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Oedipus rex
1 0:54
2 3:21
3 3:36
4 3:05
5 3:40
6 2:35
7 2:31
8 2:42
9 1:05
10 1:00
11 1:00
12 7:08
13 2:17
14 2:50
15 2:11
16 1:15
17 1:52
18 1:31
19 5:20
blue highlight denotes track pick