STRAVINSKY: Persephone – Melodrama in 3 Parts for Reciter, Vocal Soloist, Double Chorus and Orchestra – Doris Schade, narrator/Fritz Wunderlich, tenor/Schwanheimer Kinderchor/Chorus of the Hessian Radio/ Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dean Dixon
Audite 95.619, 48:57 (mono) [Distr. By Naxos] ****:
Any musical event featuring the glorious German tenor Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) warrants our attention, and the concert of 11 November 1960 especially so, since Wunderlich had traveled to Frankfurt am Main to sing in the relative rarity among Stravinsky works, his 1934 Persephone. His second work for dancer Ida Rubinstein–The Fairy’s Kiss of 1928 having been the first–Persephone embraces Stravinsky’s neo-Classical style that we find in Oedipus Rex and Apollon Musagete. The text by Andre Gide invokes a Hymn to Demeter, in which the priest Eumolpius–whose name means “he who sings beautifully”–serves as a spiritual guide for the listener. In the American versions, Vera Zorina made a specialty of the Persephone role.
German actress Doris Schade speaks the role of Persephone, who descends to the Underworld less from force than out of sympathy for the desolation she finds there. Aware of the suffering shades, Persephone brings a note of compassion, an indication of Christian caritas in the midst of the pagan fertility rite. Schade speaks with clear articulate German diction, surrounded by a soft chorus and piping flutes and harp. The textures remain clear and subdued, projecting none of the discordant mass of Le Sacre du Printemps. The occasional rhythmic outbursts–sometimes ushered in by tenor Wunderlich–find kinship in the Symphony of Psalms, Stravinsky utilizing the chamber medium that we find in the ballet Apollo. A long oboe solo with harp and bassoon introduce Part II, in which Persephone, having been given a fruit by Mercury, lies down by the river Lethe. The transparency of the writing becomes quite spellbinding; and here, we might credit Dean Dixon (1915-1976), who led the Hessian Radio Symphony for thirteen years. That Persephone will rule the shades voluntarily–to the woe of her mother Demeter–becomes a martyrdom of sorts, a Christian parable in which Part II proceeds as a series of fateful epiphanies, sometimes in barbaric rhythms. Persephone sees that her forlorn mother now raises the boy Demophon to help to regain her lost daughter.
Wunderlich, of course, can bestow the most lyrical cantilenas on any vocal line, his high notes effortless while preserving the authority of the words. The orchestra wends its way in a “dance pantomime” manner, liquid and flexible in the tempos, especially since Stravinsky did not specify what pitches the narrative part should assume. Schade projects youthful ardor and sympathy but no less a grim realization of the price Nature pays in homage of her sacrifice. Part III proclaims “Persephone Reborn,” since with her return to earth Spring and the life force return. Demophon has taught the people to cultivate the land, and celebration will occur perennially at Demeter’s sanctuary at Eleusis. Persephone must inhabit two worlds, that of the shades and the brightly lit world of recurring Spring. Children’s voices complement those of Eumolpius and the male chorus, nymphs lauding the emerge of life after Demeter’s fearsome declaration of perpetual winter. The conceits of death and rebirth were already common parlance to Stravinsky, but Persephone casts a special dreamy glow in its message of metaphysical reconciliation. The recorded sound, reverberant and voluptuous, captures the principals beautifully, which in the case of Wunderlich makes a gift that keeps on giving.
— Gary Lemco
Inspired and Inspiring…