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Stravinsky - Les Noces · Mass · Cantata
Igor Stravinsky, Daniel Reuss, RIAS Kammerchor
Stravinsky - Les Noces Mass Cantata
Genre: Classical
This is an outstanding disc of Stravinsky's choral music, beginning with a visceral performance of Les Noces that captures the raw barbarism of the score. If you like Orff's Carmina Burana, this is where it comes from. A s...  more »


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All Artists: Igor Stravinsky, Daniel Reuss, RIAS Kammerchor, musikFabrik, Carolyn Sampson, Susan Parry, Vsevolod Grivnov, Jan Kobow, Maxim Mikhailov, Peter Veale
Title: Stravinsky - Les Noces Mass Cantata
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Harmonia Mundi (France)
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 10/10/2006
Album Type: Hybrid SACD - DSD, Import
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Ballets & Dances, Ballets, Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830), Modern, 20th, & 21st Century
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 794881800766

This is an outstanding disc of Stravinsky's choral music, beginning with a visceral performance of Les Noces that captures the raw barbarism of the score. If you like Orff's Carmina Burana, this is where it comes from. A series of tableaux depicting a peasant wedding, Les Noces is a revolutionary work--and it sounds it in this blazing performance. The Mass is revolutionary in a different way, returning to earlier music traditions like Gregorian chant. It can sometimes sound too ascetic for its own good, but Reuss's superb chorus and wind band invest it with the warmth and color it needs to make its full effect. The Cantata, written four years later in 1952, is a prime example of Stravinsky's late neo-classicism. Based on medieval English texts, its small chorus and soloists, sparely backed by a chamber band, rebuke the work's neglect through their incisive performance. -- Dan Davis

CD Reviews

Essential Stravinsky
Lawrence A. Schenbeck | Atlanta, GA USA | 12/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If what you mostly know of Igor Stravinsky are the three great early ballets, then this release may help take you further into his unique sound-world and cultural stance. The three great vocal works on this album are wonderful introductions to Stravinsky's neo-Classical period (although Les Noces somewhat anticipates the constructivism of that period and combines it with some primitivist methods left over from Petrushka and The Rite).

But I don't want to get all academic about this. Les Noces, especially, is great fun! It's a depiction of a Russian peasant wedding, with all the characters present, saying and doing what they are expected to say and do. Stravinsky emphasizes the irony and humor -- and the emotional violence just under the surface -- with his bare-bones "orchestration" of four pianos and percussion, and by deconstructing the ritual monologues so that, for example, the bride's lines may be delivered by a soprano, a tenor, or the whole choir. The thing starts chugging away in a kind of grey texture and timbre (lots of ostinati throughout) and eventually builds to a galumphing, shouting, exalted climax of sorts -- and then some well-earned anticlimax, as bells ring out in the otherwise silent, deserted wedding arena, the guests lumber drunkenly off, and the happy couple retire to their chamber, whispering the customary fond cliches that newlyweds are expected to whisper.

The Mass is more severe, but beauty can be found in its exquisite wind scoring and in the quasi-medieval purity of the sung lines. The Cantata evokes a similar mood, with old English poetry set to minimal, repetitive accompaniments.

The RIAS Kammerchor is superb throughout, but especially in Les Noces. What rhythmic and tonal authority, what style! The vocal soloists also do very well, with what is sometimes rather ungrateful writing. And I have never heard a better-played instrumental accompaniment for Les Noces or the Mass. The engineers have wonderfully captured balances here -- allowing us to hear "into" the deep, and deeply clever, scoring for two trombones and two bassoons in the Mass, for example. Even though I've known this music for years, I realized I had never really heard those chords before. A revelation. Only the Cantata could be bettered, engineering-wise: the multichannel balance is fine, but the stereo slights the singers a bit. A person shouldn't have to strain to catch the words there.

Add three cheers for the excellent DigiPak and the 87 pages of great notes and translations! Why can't all CDs be this beautifully presented? (Down with jewel cases forever.) Widen your world. Buy this."
Excellent recording and interpretation
Eric Falardeau | Montreal, Quebec Canada | 11/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The sound quality (both clean and imaginative positionning of the instruments with the audience while the singers are on the stage) and the strength of interpretation makes this an obligatory stop along any journey into SACDs.

The three works are very different and offer various insights into Stravinsky's rich styles, but this disk would be worth it for Noces alone so much it is well done. A great disk!"
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 02/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If my experience is anything to go by, these are fairly unfamiliar Stravinsky works. In that case I would like, if I may, to try to get the attention of a few newcomers for what I believe to be very interesting music, very well performed and presented. Les Noces is a setting of various traditional Russian wedding songs, and Stravinsky took 10 years over its composition. He had originally projected a mega-orchestra on the lines of the Rite of Spring, but what he ended up with was four pianos and percussion. The work is mainly for chorus (naturally enough), and there are the four usual solo parts. The music is no more concerned with illustrating its texts than the music to The Ball of Kirriemuir is. It is all about pounding repetitive rhythm from start to finish, and I can only assume that it had a strong influence on the Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina of Orff. The Mass is a short setting, about the usual length of a Mozart mass, some examples of which apparently prompted this work's composition. It was written to no commission, it preceded The Rake's Progress, and the Cantata followed that, seemingly answering to a need Stravinsky felt to compose another work to an English text. Stravinsky found his texts among Auden's marginalia to the book of The Rake, but the Lyke-Wake Dirge is so reminiscent of the Scottish ballad in Britten's Serenade that I would be amazed if Stravinsky was not influenced by that too. He must have known it, and he surely knew also that of all native English-speaking composers Britten was the model among models to follow when it came to literary discernment and instinct for what does and what does not go to music (e.g. emphatically not Housman in my own opinion). The Cantata has parts for soprano and tenor solos as well as the chorus, the Mass is for chorus only, and each work is accompanied by a small chamber band.

There is a strong linking thread of Christianity along the three compositions. In Les Noces this is mainly a matter of invoking for the wedding couple the blessings of the Virgin and sundry saints, including someone addressed as `Cosmo'. As this confessor is in the familiar company of Damian, I suppose that he must really be St Cosmas, as indeed he is in the Russian. Stravinsky was himself Orthodox, but as Orthodox orthodoxy forbids instrumental accompaniments to music sung in church, this Mass is specifically Catholic, rather than the Orthodox Liturgy as set a cappella by Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky told Evelyn Waugh (who was more Catholic than the Pope) that it was intended for church performance and not the concert hall, and it was predictably premiered at a concert under the baton of Ansermet. Nevertheless the style the composer intended, partly as a semi-reproof to Mozart, is captured with dignity and sung with solemn beauty here.

The Cantata is exceptionally interesting, as well as being exceptionally good music. The composer himself tells us that the structure of the poems was a structure that lent itself obviously to musical setting, as indeed it does with its various refrains, notably the repeated `And Christe receive thye saule', so reminiscent of Britten. One feature that continues to surprise me given this composer's ethnicity is his lengthy and relaxed inclusion of Catholic texts that have given offence down the centuries by blaming Jews for the suffering of Christ. There are two solo parts this time, soprano and tenor, and the soprano is Carolyn Sampson, as in Les Noces. The four solo parts in Les Noces are only offshoots of the chorus or providing antiphonal responses to the chorus. This time she has a larger role, but the main solo spot is the tenor's long number on track 13. This is performed with distinction by Jan Kobow, who had not had any part in Les Noces. Carolyn Sampson likewise does very well, so do her colleagues in Les Noces, and the chorus gives me no grounds for complaint, indeed quite the reverse, in all three works.

The recording has been arranged thoughtfully, and I support the decisions that the producer made. You may find the voices a little backward in Les Noces, but if this is to be counted a fault I would call it at least a good fault. Overly forward voices would have been catastrophic, and the way the piece is presented here we catch the clean linear instrumental sound so characteristic of Stravinsky and so central to the interpretation of most of his work. There is no corresponding issue in the Mass, and I love the solemn wind sound; and all seems well to me again in the Cantata.

There is some good and helpful comment in the liner note, provided you can put up with its pretentiousness. Speaking for myself, I have long since read everything I want to read and more regarding Stravinsky's supposed changes of style and idiom, but I am resigned to having it doled out to me again, and it is small price to pay for an out-of-the-way treasure like this issue. It may also be obtuseness on my own part, but I would have loved to be told the significance of the `Cancrizans' (sc `crabwise') Cantus in the Cantata, and I would happily have traded large amounts of M Robert Coheur's Gallic waffle for this simple bit of information. The set is also imaginatively designed, with the thick, polyglot and expensive-looking booklet (partly in colour) glued into the fold-over package, a very good alternative to jewel-boxes. The booklet can presumably be removed, but when I was about to do that I asked myself why, so it remains in situ. A distinguished set altogether."