Proof that Stravinsky is the master of 20th Century Music
Eric S. Kim | Southern California | 02/09/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maestro Franz Welser-Most and the London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus have given us stunning performances of Stravinsky's 1910 ballet "Firebird," his 1947 revised version of "Symphonies of Wind Instruments," and his Opera-oratorio called "Oedipus Rex".
Oedipus Rex is no doubt a very complex neo-classic work; it's a mix of Schoenberg and R. Strauss, and a little dose of Debussy. Based on the famous Sophocles tragedy, it's a 50-minute Opera-oratorio that contains atonal rhythms and Greek-like melodies. It kind of reminds me of Stravinsky's own "Symphony of Psalms". The text is in Latin, while the narration is in the original French language. Since this is the first time I've heard this Opera-oratorio, I've got no criticisms. I will say that Welser-Most does a wonderful job with the intensity of the work. The soloists and the London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus are marvelous as well; they are really involved with this work.
Welser-Most's fast-paced Firebird is also exhilarating to listen to. It has that swift adrenaline drive that's found in the violent Rite of Spring, which makes the entire piece much more explosive to the ears. But just because it has swift tempi and a constant energetic drive doesn't mean it's superior to others. The lyrical "Introduction" and "Lullaby" are taken at a very fast speed, which robs them of their haunting beauty. The orchestra does seem to have trouble with keeping up with the conductor (there's lots of evidence in "Infernal Dance" and "The Princess's Game with the Golden Apples"). Plus, "The Finale" does feel very rushed when the trumpets and trombones play their famous 7/4 theme.
Flaws aside, this is a very good performance of the complete Firebird. But I honestly prefer conductor Eliahu Inbal's more delicate take on the ballet with the Philharmonia Orchestra. His rendition deals with far more attention to detail, more lyrical stresses, and a much more involving performance as a whole. His Firebird recording is on Teldec (Ultima), which is sadly out of stock, but I'm glad it's been brought back on ArkivMusic.
This 2-CD set is very essential, because it has explosive performances of Oedipus Rex and Symphonies of Wind Instruments. For the Firebird, it really is a decent rendition, but I suggest finding a better performance. I would recommend Inbal with the Philharmonia, Bernard Haitink with the London Philharmonic, or Michael Tilson Thomas's live recording with the San Francisco Symphony.
Oedipus Rex, Symphonies of Wind Instruments: A+
The Firebird: B-"
A lush, large-scale performance, with an excellent Oedipus
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Note: This review repeats the one written for the original CD release.)
This is a much-needed reissue of Welser-Most's 1993 recording, made when he was the young, embattled leader of the London Phil. It's large-scale, dramatic Stravinsky, the performance style I like best. Having heard Welser-Most live, I'm amazed at how much better he is than his reputation would lead one to believe. The Clevealnd Orch. was right to extend his contract well into the future. He is a superlative conductor who may grow into a great one. This performance of 'Oedipus Rex' shows off Welser-Most's skill at handling a large chorus in a thrustful, almost lush reading of Stravinsky's neoclassical masterpiece. The conductor's acclaimed work at the Zurich Opera no doubt contributed to the dramatic tension that holds this reading together. Cocteau's original French narration is the one used rather than an English translation.
Highly recommened, then, even though none of the singers, except for Rolfe-Johnson as Oedipus, is truly outstanding. But he ertainly is great--intense, involved, singing as passionately as he can -- in the Peter Pears tradition of tenors who make Oedipus quietly poignant and tragic through self-realization. LIke Pears, Rolfe-Johnson doesn't have the most powerful or pure voice, but that matters little when you have this kind of musical command."