"FINEST" SYMPHONY OF PSALMS -- GREAT OEDIPUS REX
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 01/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""No need to mince words here: this is the finest Symphony of Psalms available. . ." (David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com)
My reference recording of "The Symphony of Psalms" has always been the one on Telarc with Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. In the mid-90s, Dr. Shaw came to Minneapolis to direct the work and the Durufle "Requiem" with the combined forces of the Minnesota Orchestra and The Dale Warland Festival Singers. I was fortunate to be a member of the latter group. It was an awesome experience, one I shall treasure all my life. The chorus was expertly prepared ahead of Dr. Shaw's arrival in town, so the great man spent most of his time inspiring us and creating something deeply spiritual - and musically stunning.
Today, however, I was totally blown away by this recording. Although new to me, it was originally recorded in 1966. Even though Robert Shaw is responsible for some of the finest choirs in America, the Prague Philharmonic Choir is (or was) undoubtedly one of the greatest choral ensembles ever, rivaling the Russia's finest. The timbre of those voices is darker and richer than American and/or English choirs, yet they sing with great expression and nuance. Additionally, the Czech Philharmonic is an outstanding ensemble, which, under the direction of Karel Ancerl, was surely one of the finest orchestras in the world. And praise must be given to recording director Eduard Herzog and to sound engineer Miloslav Kulhan for an amazingly natural-sounding recording. Listen to the space and air around the woodwinds in the fugue that opens the second movement. Feel the impact of the brass choirs. Marvel in the balance between singers and instruments. Could it be that vacuum tube analog recording is warmer and more three dimensional that its digital counterpart?
To further quote from David Hurwitz: "If your hair doesn't stand on end when, in the first movement, the massed voices hurl out the words "et deprecationem meam", then you are either aurally challenged or dead. Has Stravinsky's immaculately cool wind writing ever sounded better? Has the second-movement double fugue ever been more clearly phrased or the closing pages sung with such calm intensity? Here's the bottom line: if you haven't heard this performance, then you simply don't know the Symphony of Psalms. Orchestra, chorus, and conductor are all beyond praise."
"Oedipus Rex," although an opera, is often performed as a concert piece. The original intent was for the actors and narrator to "remain static on stage in statuesque manner, with their faces hidden behind masks, to create the impression, true to the classical antiquity's dominant pattern of thought, of helplessness in the hands of cruel fate." (liner notes) Although a French-speaking narrator introduces the play and reports on its progress, the rest of Jean Cocteau's libretto is in Latin. Unfortunately, no English translation is provided, my only complaint. The soloists are superb, especially Ivo Zidek as Oedipus and Karel Berman as Creon. "As in the Symphony, the choral singing is stunning, and Ancerl's direction is a model of clarity and rhythmic incisiveness." (Hurwitz)
In 1968, "Oedipus Rex" was awarded both the GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE L'ACADEMIE DU DISQUE FRANCAIS and the ORPHEE D'OR DE L'ACADEMIE DU DISQUE LYRIQUE. More recently, this Ancerl Gold Edition disc received a 10/10 rating from ClassicsToday.com, for both Artistic Quality & Sound Quality. It is not to be missed.
David A. Rowland | Berkeley, CA | 04/26/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was delighted to find this Symphony of Psalms. I have the LP from the 60s and always thought it very fine. The CD is no disappointment. The original sound and the digital remaster are wonderful. The recording is quite "chorus forward". The performance is full-blooded. I like it better than Stravinsky's own."