Les Noces' & Other Choral Music CD, Import
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James Woods and the New London Chamber Chorus and Chamber Ensemble provide a performance of Stravinsky's Les Noces--considered by many to be the composer's finest work--that is careful and well balanced, even if it never reaches the Apollonian sublimity of Bardon Eötvös's recording. And it's wonderful to hear engaging renditions of lesser-known vocal music by the composer, including the Four Russian Peasant Songs and several Slavonic works. Stravinsky's arrangements of music by the infamous Renaissance composer Gesualdo and a modernist homage to T.S. Eliot round out this record. --Joshua Cody
An excellent ploy is the use of two experienced choirs for the recording: the New London Chamber Choir and the Voronezh District Chamber Choir, with James Wood and Oleg Shepel as respective conductors. Whilst some may find the latter choir a slightly odd-sounding group, their presence adds a wonderfully authentic flavour to the music, most of which dates from Stravinsky's early period - commonly described as his 'Russian' period. Indeed, they open the disc with Four Bridal Songs from the Voronezh District itself, complete with tambourines and dancing (although of course only the tambourines are evident in the recording). These are a superb appetiser for what follows.
The title work "Les Noces," also known as "Svadebka" or even just simply "The Wedding," is without a doubt one of Stravinsky's most celebrated works. As with the Russian Songs, it is a pity that in listening to it we cannot also enjoy the accompanying choreography, although Stravinsky called for a large array of percussion instruments in the score and these add an almost aural choreography to the work. The two featured choirs join forces for this together with four outstanding soloists (including John Potter) and four deft pianists, resulting in a colourful, gripping and explosive performance.
Stravinsky's "Four Russian Peasant Songs" for women's choir deserve to be better known, and here we get the opportunity to listen to both versions: one for unaccompanied voices, the other for voices and four horns. These show as well as anything that part of Stravinsky's mastery lay in his ability to evoke a chosen style whilst remaining completely true to his own: if you can programme your CD player to play these and the opening traditional songs in sequence, you will see for yourself just how successfully this music works.
Westminster Cathedral Choir have recorded Stravinsky's "Three Sacred Choruses" in Latin for Hyperion; on this disc you can hear the original Slavonic versions. They are entrusted to the Voronezh Choir under Oleg Shepel, and he does some rather surprising things to the music (for instance, it is sung at more flexible speeds and with a curious degree of vibrato and 'swoopy' phrasing than on other recordings I have heard). Still, it is good to have them in sequence, presented as Stravinsky might have heard them upon returning to his homeland after nearly a whole lifetime in exile. The New London Chamber Choir follows these with three sacred pieces of a different kind: these began life as unfinished motets by Carlo Gesualdo. Stravinsky was fascinated by them and elected to finish them, but in the process his own musical thumbprints were placed on the music and what we thus hear is a curiously compelling mixture of flavourful Italian polyphony and twentieth century idioms. It is not hard to imagine these being sung in worship.
The programme closes with two fruits of Stravinsky's final years - his serial period. "The Dove Descending" is an eerily beautiful setting of a well-known poem by T. S. Eliot (another figure greatly admired by the composer) and provides further demonstration that Stravinsky could still sound like himself whilst under the influence of Schoenberg's twelve-tone discipline. The "Introit in memory of T. S. Eliot" which closes the disc is a more obviously serial work, setting the opening text of the Requiem Mass for male voices and a small ensemble (viola, double bass, piano, harp and percussion). This is Stravinsky at his grittiest, yet the music - right down to the timbre of the instruments combined - expresses the mood of the text in a wonderfully sublime manner.
This disc is a worthwhile investment, whether you are a Stravinsky addict, a Stravinsky student or just plain curious. It presents an amazingly varied range of works, each one a gem in its own way, performed to a very high standard. Colourful, exciting, well-made: I recommend it.
I have heard Stravinsky's 'Tres Sacrae Cantiones' done on other recordings and these are much better, and they fit in well with the other material on the disk.
This disk easily passes the single most important test of a CD. Not only do I enjoy listening to it at least once a year, I really look forward to it, much as I look forward to 'Rubber Soul' as I work my way through Beatles' recordings.
A truly superior recording and selection of choral material.
The other pieces are also not commonly had outside the big collections of Stravinsky works. They are worth hearing and knowing.
These are very good performances done in interesting ways.