CLASSICAL MUSIC : Oedipus Rex: Philharmonia / Dohnanyi RFH, London

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The Independent Culture
The Philharmonia must have wondered last Tuesday whether they too were not the hapless playthings of the gods. What should have been a triumphant repeat of their Paris performances of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (fully staged at the Theatre Chatelet) appeared to be doomed as one misfortune followed another. First the Paris Oedipus "retires"; then the channel tunnel fire puts paid to the large Czech chorus sliding effortlessly under the waters c/o Eurostar - blockades, planes and jams on the M4 an unwelcome substitute and, finally, on the afternoon of the concert, Jocasta is felled (for unexplained reasons). With scarcely 15 minutes to spare before the start of the concert, mezzo soprano, Stefania Kaluza, wings in from Zurich.

So at least, somewhat miraculously, a full cast is gathered. But what bad luck for the two main protagonists - Oedipus and Jocasta - both to be substitutes in a piece where the luxury of repetition (six fully staged performances) had so obviously brought confidence in other quarters. Oedipus is a problematic (and expensive) work to mount; six soloists are required but none of them, save Oedipus, has full roles. Vocally, Oedipus stands or falls largely on the proficiency of the male chorus. In the Czech Radio Choir with members of the Chatelet Chorus (singing without scores), Cocteau's Latin translation was spat out with deadly, precise articulation ("Solve, Oedipus, solve" [solve it, Oedipus, solve it]) plus full rhythmic and dynamic intensity as the horrifying sequence of events unfolds. Franz- Josef Kapellmann as Creon brought a confident matter-of-factness to the role, whereas in Willard White's Tiresias, his reigned-in anger and pity as Oedipus wrongly accuses him of being in league with Creon, quickened the dramatic pace.

In the smaller roles of Messenger and Shepherd, Cheyne Davidson and Peter Keller were outstanding although unhelpfully positioned (with the chorus) behind the orchestra. Davidson brought a terrible urgency to Stravinsky's orchestral scream in his announcement of Jocasta's death, while Keller, in one of the few tender passages, brought a touching sweetness to his sorrow at having revealed Oedipus's origins. Anthony Rolfe-Johnson's Oedipus was keenly felt but the voice sounded strained and, using a score, he seemed restrained. Stefania Kaluza made a deeply dignified Jocasta, the voice rounded and velvety although in her dramatic coloratura "Oracula mentiuntur" [the oracles lie], she was hard to hear, as were most of her words.

But the real miscalculation was in the casting of the Narrator: Robert Wilson who had staged the Paris performances, seemed ill at ease, trying too hard to project ee cummings's English text. Christoph von Dohnanyi appeared well in control, quite marvellous playing coming from individuals (the timpanist and oboe) and sections (the horns and strings) of the Philharmonia. Which was certainly not the case in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, where almost doggedly, soloist and orchestra were at moments beats apart. But in Viktoria Mullova, Dohnanyi could scarcely have found a more stiff and disengaged soloist. Where was the skittishness and neo-classical fun? Revenge of the gods, perhaps? Annette Morreau