Stravinsky The Rake's Progress
Nearly 20 years have passed since
The kind of rapport one expects between conductor and performers who have recently worked together in the theatre is especially important when the conductor takes such a forceful view of the work as Chailly evidently does of The Rake, and from the outset the London Sinfonietta match him in both precision and panache. The recording gives full and appropriate prominence to the glorious sound of the Sinfonietta's woodwind section, but all departments of the ensemble are admirable. In its balance of brilliance and sensitivity, this is playing of the first class: indeed, it is so good that there seems a real danger, at least in Act 1, that the singers will be driven into subordinate roles. Samuel Ramey's distinctive, attractive timbre does make an immediate and satisfying impression: he is the wily, oily demon to the life, and the later acts he effects a transformation from sauvity to menance without sacrificing any purely musical qualities en route. Both Sarah Walker and John Dobson have made the roles of Baba and Sellem their own in the theatre, and their scenes are done with a wit which owes much to relishing the felicities of the Auden/Kallman text. (Decca uses sound effects for Baba's china smashing, and elsewhere: only that for the card shuffling in Act 3 seems slightly overdone.)
To say that Cathryn Pope makes a vividly vulnerable Anne is a mixed compliment: after all, Anne must, like her father, display ''strength of purpose''. Dramatically, the role is underplayed for the gramophone, but the voice itself is appealing, and for once we never feel that a mature, weighty soprano is trying (with less than total success) to scale her voice down to the part's essential lyricism. Youthfulness and lyricism are also the hallmarks of Philip Langridge's performance: there are moments where the voice sounds under pressure, moments where he responds too reticently to situations for the character's fecklessness and impulsiveness to come fully alive. But in the later scenes he gives a touching reality to Tom's disintegration, all the more effective for its restraint.