6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I fell in love with Stravinsky's 'The Rake's Progress' in the 1950s via the composer's 1953 recording of the opera with the cast, chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera. Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress [1953 New York Studio Recording Made for Columbia Masterworks; Hilde Gueden, Eugene Conley, Mack Harrell, Blanche Thebom, Norman Scott, Martha Lipton, Paul Franke, Lawrence Davidson; Igor Stravinsky, Cond.] (It was his second of three recordings of the opera. The first was of the original 1951 Venice production and the last was the 1964 Sadler's Wells [the latter only available in the 22 CD Stravinsky set). It starred Eugene Conley as Tom Rakewell, Hilde Gueden as Anne Trulove, Mack Harrell as Nick Shadow, and the inimitable Blanche Thebom as Baba the Turk. That recording remains for me the one I love the most, but to some extent I think it may be because it was my first love. I have also very much admired the more recent recording conducted by Kent Nagano, with Dawn Upshaw, Jerry Hadley and Samuel Ramey Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress / Upshaw, Hadley, Ramey, Bumbry; Nagano. And let us not forget the simply smashing DVD of the opera from Glyndebourne, the one that features the Hogarthian sets by David Hockney Stravinsky - The Rake's Progress / Lott, Goeke, Ramey, Elias, van Allan, Haitink, Glyndebourne Opera; THAT is the one to have on DVD.
So what about this budget-priced set from Naxos? Well, it was originally issued in 1993 on Music Masters and is really excellent sound for that time. The conductor is, of course, the leading Stravinsky conductor of our time. Robert Craft, as it happens, met Stravinsky for the first time in 1948 on the very day that W. H. Auden delivered the Rake libretto to the composer. And indeed Craft helped Stravinsky with his setting of English text as at the time Stravinsky's English was not fluent. He has led a number of productions of the opera. This one was recorded at SUNY Purchase with a cast of young American singers, most of whom are not well-known, the exception being John Cheek as Nick Shadow. But the young, unknown cast is not a problem. Each of them is quite good. Jayne West has a rich, creamy soprano and she makes a lovely, innocent, loving Anne. Her lullaby, 'Gently little boat', is as moving as one is likely to hear. Jon Garrison's Tom Rakewell is finely sung but a little undercharacterized, I feel. His insouciance in Act I and his desperation in Act III is less convincing than one might want. As Nick Shadow, John Cheek's voice is as rich as I've ever heard it. He certainly has command of the part and his character has command of the situation. He could perhaps be a little more sly, but that's a small complaint. Wendy White's Baba the Turk is funny without being a caricature. The other minor parts and the chorus are first-rate.
But the real star of this recording is Robert Craft and the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the Gregg Smith Singers are simply superb. Craft's molding of the score is more pointed than that of the composer himself. He moves the performance right along, which is absolutely appropriate for this score, and actually takes about ten minutes less than Stravinsky. Other conductors of the score -- Haitink, Nagano -- are a bit more rounded. I've always felt that the score requires an almost expressionistic edge and Craft does that better than anyone but the composer. I would not be without other recorded performances, but for someone with a limited budget this set will more than do.
I will point out, however, for those who have a DVD player they might want to consider getting the Glyndebourne performance because it is only slightly more costly than this Naxos 2CD set and it is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Santa Fe Listener
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Just as Mr. Morrison has an abiding fondness for Stravinsky's mono recording from 1953, I have never found a substitute for my own beloved set, the stereo remake from England that Stravinsky made in 1964. Despite rough recorded sound that Sony badly needs to remaster, the casting was superb, with all three leads (Alexander Young as Tom, Judith Raskin as Anne, and above all, the witty, nimble John Reardon as Nick Shadow) creating memorable characters. Thank goodness it's so good, because in the four decades since then, The Rake's Progress hasn't fared well on records. There's a lackluster Chailly with Philip Langridge as the rake, which quickly disappeared. John Eliot Gardiner's set on DG benefits from Bryn Terfel singing Nick, one of his signature roles, but Deborah York is out of her depth as Anne, and for some of us the nasal, reedy voice of Ian Bostridge is insufferable in the lead role. Gardiner's conducting is rather at a loss, too.
Kent Nagano is better on the podium, and he has a sparkling Dawn Upshaw as Anne, but Samuel Ramey sounds too old and woolly-voiced as Nick, and Jerry Hadley, who had the best voice for Tom since Young, offers a stitled portrayal that's hard to listen to, much less sympathize with. On a deleted Philips set Sylvia McNair makes a very good, pure lyric Anne, but then things go sour. Anthony Rolfe-Johnson is a wonderful tenor in the light English style, but he is twenty years too old for the title role, ditto Paul Plishka's dull Nick, and Seiji Ozawa conducts limply in many places. You'd think that The Rake's Progress was hard to cast, but beyond Anne's difficult coloratura aria and Bab the Turk's similar imitation of Handel, the missteps in finding a good Tom and Nick are baffling.
Having said that, Robert Craft's newly reissued set, which first appeared on MusicMaster, is the least inspired of all. Craft conducts mechanically and proficiently, barely touching on the score's incredible depth of wit and pathos. All the singers are competent but totally bereft of personality, and Tom barely begins to characterize is part. Nothing sounds amateurish, but none of the singers seems to have developed their roles onstage. As a reliable sketch of the score, Craft's version may have some value, but for sheer delight, one has to go with the composer's stereo set, one of the gems in the entire catalog of modern opera.