Stravinsky Le Rossignol
Stravinsky’s short opera Le rossignol is still sufficiently little known that if you chose to play its opening to a reasonably informed musical friend and seek the composer’s identity, the immediate answer would probably be Debussy (the First Act was written in 1908, but the remaining two, which are recognizably Stravinsky, followed post-Rite in 1913-14). And this is a first outing on CD for its first ever commercial recording, made in mono in 1955 (and sung in French) in the days and months following these same artists’ live performance (drily recorded and available on Disques Montaigne); since when there have been only three others – Stravinsky himself in 1960, Boulez in 1990 (Erato, 7/92 – nla) – both of which were sung in Russian – and Robert Craft (“Stravinsky the Composer”, Volume 10).
Sadly, it is flawed. The orchestra benefit from a moderate degree of ambience, but the voices are recorded very closely (the Bonze, absurdly so) and in a largely acoustic-free zone. It is undoubtedly true that, where opera is concerned, all critics and collectors have different ideas of what constitutes ideal positioning and balance. But there is no way in which Janine Micheau’s presence as the nightingale of the title could be described as “a disembodied voice” (Robert Craft), with the result that, even if her pitching were as consistently accurate, and her performance as mercurial as Reri Grist’s for Stravinsky (which they aren’t), it is difficult for her to fulfil her principal function in the opera – to enchant. Stravinsky’s recording team’s ploy for the part (which Stravinsky’s score indicates should be sung from the orchestra pit) is to bathe Grist’s voice in a fair measure of reverberation – a cliche perhaps, but very effective. In all other respects, this French Rossignol is well prepared, and manages to sound like a theatrical event, unlike the otherwise admirable Boulez. Close balances again rob the Delage songs of their exotic allure.
At the moment, for Le rossignol, Stravinsky’s recording remains a clear first choice. Unfortunately, it is only available in Sony Classical’s 22-disc complete edition.