Valery Gergiev brings enormous authority to two of Stravinsky's pivotal masterworks of the 1920s, Les Noces, the dance-cantata completed in 1923, and the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex from 1927. Les Noces, the final work from the composer's "Russian" period, draws heavily on Russian folk material, deployed with the kind of raw rhythmic primitivism of Le Sacre du printemps. Gergiev leads vocal and instrumental forces from the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg in a propulsively energetic account of the score. The use of native Russian speakers in the vocal roles allows for a performance of such exhilarating abandon that it sounds like it is on the brink of flying out of control. One of the composer's first major works from his neo-classical period, Oedipus Rex, also shows the influence of both Russian music and a cool, forward-looking modernism. The power of Gergiev's reading lies in his ability to make all those elements clearly audible, and at the same time make them coalesce into a coherent and urgently dramatic performance; he turns the familiar story into a real nail-biter that builds to an overwhelming conclusion. The full forces of the Orchestra and the Men of the Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre perform with unreserved power and focus. The soloists are all very fine, and some are much more than fine. Sergei Semishkur's Oedipus does not make an especially strong beginning, but he gathers gravitas and force as the opera progresses. Ekaterina Semenchuk, a powerful and moving Jocasta, has a large, expressive voice that is penetrating from top to bottom. Evgeny Nikitin shines as Creon and the Messenger. Gérard Depardieu is an appropriately dramatic and dignified narrator. The monumentality of this terrific performance is perfectly suited to the high seriousness and grandeur of the opera. The sound of the Mariinsky hybrid SACD is vibrant and thrillingly present. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins