BBC Music Magazine review of Stravinsky: Les Noces

21 Feb 2023

Written by: Daniel Jaffé

Published in: BBC Music Magazine

Full Article (EN)

“Of all his ballets, Stravinsky’s Les Noces – an evocation of Russian peasant wedding rituals – was the one he laboured over longest as he changed his mind several times about its instrumentation. Here, for the first time, is a recording of the entire ballet-cantata using the line-up Stravinsky favoured but reluctantly abandoned in 1919. […] This new recording, however, by Mathieu Romano conducting the combined forces of Ensemble Aedes and musicians of Les Siècles – using a computer-controlled pianola – is the very first to present the entire work in Stravinsky’s favoured 1919 instrumentation, as convincingly completed by the late Dutch composer Theo Verbey. […] The difference is immediately telling. Instead of the chiming and crystalline accompaniment familiar from the 1923 version, we hear the earthier sounds of the two cymbaloms and harmonium which, with the pianola, accompany the opening soprano lament. The chorus and vocal soloists – no longer competing with the final version’s four pianos and the brightly ringing percussion instruments (such as xylophone) – are more effectively integrated in this folklike and rustic-sounding instrumental ensemble. […]

All that said, the pianola’s mechanistic and inexorable tempo drives much of the performance, effectively depersonalising the ritual while sharpening the rhythmic profile of much of the music. Yet the Ensemble Aedes and its various soloists, even while working with the pianola’s relentless drive, admirably characterise their singing, one moment full of rough enthusiasm or raw emotion, the next beguilingly lyrical.

Hearing Stravinsky’s long-desired but originally unfulfilled version of Les Noces – so compellingly realised between Verbey and these fine musicians – is worth the price of entry alone.” – Daniel Jaffé