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George Enescu, Oedipe, Op. 23
20 Apr 2006

Enescu: Oedipe

Enescu's Oedipe has always been a rarity outside his native Romania.

George Enescu, Oedipe, Op. 23

Monte Pederson (bass baritone), Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo soprano), Chorus and orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Michael Gielen, conductor.

Naxos 8.660163-64 [2CDs]

$13.99  Click to buy

Composition began as early as 1914 but it was only in 1936 that it was eventually premiered. During that time other works that can compare with Oedipe appeared, namely Honegger's Le Roi David, Berg's Wozzeck and most obviously Stravinsky’s own treatment of the story Oedipus Rex.

This Naxos recording comes from a performance at the Vienna State Opera in 1997 and can be recommended alongside the only other generally available recording, a studio production with José van Dam as Oedipus. The sound, apart from including a fair amount stage noise, is wonderfully clear and, because it captures an actual performance is more powerful in the key scenes involving the Sphinx, Jocasta's death and Oedipus's blinding.

The recording is a testimonial too to the late Monte Pederson who sings Oedipus. With a rich baritone voice and obviously keen sense of drama, Pederson died at only 43 and judging by this performance his loss is a great one.

Marjana Lipovšek is another great artist and too infrequently recorded. She dominated the EMI recording in the brief but stunning scene as the Sphinx. Here she contributes a somewhat Freudian double-act, again singing the Sphinx, the harbinger of destruction, as well as singing Jocasta, the partial cause of the tragedy. Lipovšek's Sphinx is even better this time around. The brief scene [9 minutes into Disc 1 track 7] is so spectacularly written, with its short jagged and jabbing vocal line and final death cry accompanied by, of all things, a musical saw. Lipovšek's Jocasta is equally powerful.

The conductor Michael Gielen is also a composer with a great reputation for Mahler. He obviously acknowledges and even relishes Enescu's creativity throughout the performance. Enescu sets the entire story, unlike Stravinsky, Orff or latterly Mark Anthony Turnage (in his setting of Steven Berkoff's irreverent Greek) but the whole opera lasts just over two hours. Musically, it is a late Romantic inspiration standing somewhere between Richard Strauss and Karol Szymanovski. But at this price, to have Lipovšek at her peak and a memento of a fine baritone, it is well worth investigating.

Michael Magnusson

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