Valery Gergiev

Rodion Shchedrin: The Enchanted Wanderer

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Loren Maazel commissioned Rodion Shchedrin to write The Enchanted Wanderer for concert presentation with the New York Philharmonic and gave it its premiere in 2002. Valery Gergiev conducted the first Russian performances in 2008, also in concert form, and this recording grew out of that project, but the opera was soon after given a fully staged version, also led by Gergiev, demonstrating its viability as a gripping theatrical experience. Shchedrin is hardly a household name in the West, but the originality, vitality, and sheer beauty of his music make him a composer who deserves to be widely known. The Enchanted Wanderer is based on a story by 19th century writer Nikolai Leskov (whose work was also the source of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and has the mysterious ambiguity and primal mythic spirituality of an ancient legend. It has called forth from the composer music of exceptional evocative power, inventiveness, and sensuous lyrical appeal. Shchedrin writes for the voice with consummate skill and imagination; his lines lie naturally for the voice and are always musically and dramatically meaningful. As excellent as his vocal writing is, though, it's his handling of the orchestra that really dazzles. His instrumental writing is not merely accompanimental; it has such strong content and sense of direction that much of it could hold the listener rapt even without the vocal parts. There are few composers working at the beginning of the 21st century who could surpass the economy, inventiveness, and fluency of Shchedrin's handling of the orchestra. The performance is absolutely stellar in every aspect. The Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus perform with passion and make the most of the marvelous material the composer has provided. Soloists mezzo-soprano Kristina Kapustinskaya, tenor Sergei Aleksashkin, and bass Evgeny Akimov have gorgeous, full, and intensely expressive voices, and they bring the enigmatic characters persuasively to life. The two-disc set is filled out with two works that show a very different side to Shchedrin's creative personality, the whimsical and lyrical "Four fragments" from the ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse, and the jaunty, witty Concerto for Orchestra No. 1, "Naughty Limericks." The sound of the beautifully produced Mariinsky SACD is present, warmly ambient, and detailed. Highly recommended.

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