STRAVINSKY Le Rossignol
With a composition history that straddles the period of the composer’s three breakthrough works for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, The Nightingale in many ways presents two different Stravinskys: pre- and post-Rite. A beguiling and mistily atmospheric first act gives way to second and third acts that reflect the composer’s new forcefulness and angularity – but does so just when the plot, based on Hans Christian Andersen, itself starts to explore the clash between nature and technology.
Richard Taruskin called the work – just 45 minutes long – a ‘touching little Orphic allegory’. It is indeed a gem, beautifully polished up in this new recording. Jukka-Pekka Saraste brings out a remarkable amount of detail in the score, with each line precisely etched and vividly conveyed. The playing is superb – the twittering singsong of many solo lines strikingly alive – and the engineering is natural and detailed.
While the first act is properly beguiling, however, it’s as if Saraste is always looking forward to the sound world of the final two acts: there’s a real pungency to the music accompanying the bickering courtiers, for example. He brings brilliant, sparkling angularity to the Chinese Dance later on, and is especially good in capturing the impassive objectivity of the Nightingale’s mechanical rival.
The recording benefits from being strongly cast, with Evgeny Akimov an appealingly tangy-voiced Fisherman, Marina Prudenskaya a luxurious Cook and Vladimir Vaneev authoritative as the Emperor. Mojca Erdmann’s performance as the Nightingale might be a little more controversial: she sings the part accurately but the basic sound, with its earthbound timbre, feels too plummy. There’s a similar issue with the rather too knowing Natalie Dessay on the main modern rival (with less vivid support from James Conlon and the Paris Opéra orchestra). I’m not sure, in fact, if anyone on record really surpasses Reri Grist, Stravinsky’s Nightingale on his own recording.
Somewhat strident accounts of Pribaoutki and Deux Poèmes de Paul Verlaine hardly represent a generous coupling, and it’s really not good enough for Orfeo to include neither synopsis nor text and translation. Still, that shouldn’t detract from a very fine, recommendable account of a haunting score.