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Oedipus Rex; Apollon Musagète
Johnston; Skelton, Quirke, Shipley, Saks, Ashworth; London Symphony, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner. Text and translation. LSO Live LSO 0751
Many performances of Stravinsky's steely monument make their effect through the accumulation of great blocks of sound, each of them unvaried within itself. John Eliot Gardiner's version is something different, a trim, brisk flight that even on occasion (as in the solo "Non reperias") flirts with playfulness. But many performances make use of a human-scaled narrator to set off the ceremonial score, while this one reverses the equation. Here, Fanny Ardant relates the story in a shocked, hypertheatrical style, fairly aghast at times; balanced opposition between speech and song is preserved. Gardiner's interpretation is one of energy rather than ritual (particularly in the end of Tiresias's scene and in the choral reaffirmation of the lineage of Oedipus) and is in keeping with his choice of companion work, Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète, here in a lithe and plastic rendering by the strings of the London Symphony.
Stuart Skelton responds to Gardiner's cues with a relatively gentle Oedipus, particularly in the reprise of "Invidia fortunam odit." Likewise, Jennifer Johnston is not the heroic, oracular Jocasta of tradition; indeed she is sometimes bitter at her situation. Gidon Saks delivers Creon's solo with the bravado of those who don't know that they are about to be humbled, and the Tiresias of David Shipley is tranquil in the face of false accusation. The best singing comes from the Messenger of Alexander Ashworth, who finds the full effect in his music. The men of the Monteverdi Choir also sing well, though they have been coached to give some exaggerated inflections to some words and long notes. In the work of Ardant and Gardiner, the tumult of events is portrayed. But Oedipus Rex really ought to make the spectator a little ill, and this one merely skitters away.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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