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Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, March 2014

Every single singer, from top to bottom, not only sings superbly but is also clearly understood, their diction so flawless that if you speak English you don’t need a libretto.

The way Craft conducts here, all of the voices play off each other with perfect rhythmic “pointing,” blending perfectly in ensemble…and in general making The Rake sound almost like a madrigal entertainment…I’ve heard nothing like it in many, many years, in any operatic performance or excerpts of same. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

George Hall
BBC Music Magazine, November 2009

An Anglophone cast benefits Auden and Kallman’s text while Robert Craft’s neat conducting highlights the delicate ironies of Stravinsky’s neoclassical score.

James H. North
Fanfare, November 2009

As one may deduce from the singers’ names, this is not a new recording; it was made in 1993 and previously appeared on a pair of Music Master CDs. The voices are generally fine: West has a creamy, rich soprano that conquers every musical challenge…“No word from Tom” is brilliantly sung…Garrison…covers the role well, missing only the extremes: the light, playboy attitude of act I and the desperation of act III. Cheek has all the bottom notes for Nick Shadow, his bass ringing out as I had never heard it…The rest of the cast is very satisfactory, although no one stands out. Almost everyone enunciates clearly (West is a bit too smooth for that), suggesting that Craft’s direction of the performance matched his contributions to the score. The fine orchestra is crisp and accurate but lightly colored—gouache where I would prefer rich oils. All this is of a piece, suggesting that it is Craft’s way with The Rake. It wasn’t Stravinsky’s: three of his recorded performances (the 1951 Teatro la Fenice premiere, the 1953 Metropolitan Opera mono Columbia [also available on Naxos Historical 8.111266–67, and the 1964 Sadler’s Wells stereo Columbia—the latter in the 22-CD Sony set) have more edge and drama than are found here…Don’t get me wrong: this is a fine recording, but there have been several magnificent ones.

William Hedley
MusicWeb International, September 2009

…the part of Anne Trulove is a gift for any soprano with the voice to carry it off…Jayne West’s assumption of this challenging role is a major achievement. She is totally in command vocally and through her voice alone manages remarkably well to suggest the different facets of the character. I can’t think of another Anne Trulove, live or recorded, who has so successfully inhabited the part. The other great success in terms of casting is Baba the Turk. She is wonderfully haughty as she demands, from her coach, that Tom finishes “whatever business” he has with Anne, later sealing her own marital fate by jabbering hilariously until her husband can stand no more. She is then very touching when she advises Anne to go in search of Tom, thereby relinquishing her husband to another, before sweeping out regally, imperiously, from the auction where her possessions are being sold, with the words “The next time you see Baba, you shall pay!” Wendy White achieves all this by singing Stravinsky’s notes as accurately as possible and by putting her lovely voice to work without a trace of exaggeration or caricature…

Robert Craft’s role as Stravinsky’s musical assistant has been well documented, as has the part he played in the gestation of this particular work. His performances in this ongoing series of Naxos reissues of his Stravinsky series are characterised by technical perfection and absolute clarity, Stravinskian virtues to be sure…The orchestra plays brilliantly well and the recording is clear and immediate.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, July 2009

The association of Robert Craft with The Rake’s Progress spans the 45 years between this recording and his first meeting with Stravinsky in 1948 on the same day that W.H. Auden delivered the completed libretto to the composer. Craft subsequently became involved in what he describes as “the first step” in the composition of the opera, especially in helping Stravinsky master the pronunciation, vocabulary and rhythms of the English text. This involvement is described in an extract from Robert Craft’s memoirs in the booklet. Craft’s recordings of Stravinsky and others, in this case originally on the MusicMasters label, have seen a recent revival from Naxos with their ‘Robert Craft Collection’, and very excellent they are too.

With the label’s bargain pricing position, it seems fairest to compare like with more-or-less like in that department. My main reference has been Stravinsky’s own 1964 recording, now hiding discreetly as discs 16 and 17 in Sony’s bargain 22 CD box Works of Igor Stravinsky. This set is a must-have for any Stravinsky collector, but the recording in this set is not to be confused with the mono 1953 Metropolitan Opera recording, now available on Naxos Historical [8.111266–67].

As you would expect, the more recent Craft recording wins in terms of sound quality, but aside from the usual leathery-sounding oboes and some tape hiss Stravinsky’s recording still comes up sounding pretty good. The same goes for the orchestral playing, with Craft more slick, and often more adventurous and energetic in terms of tempi. Stravinsky comes in at just under 141 minutes for the whole opera to Craft’s 128. If I have a minor criticism of both, it is the level at which the harpsichord is set, especially in the Craft recording. Even listening on best-possible hi-fi, the level is arguably too low to hear much of what is being played, and in the recitatives and important card game scene it is easily covered by the voices. This is a tricky aspect of such a recording and may be a fairly accurate representation of what you would hear in a live performance, but it is a shame that detail and harmonic content is missed in some of these recitatives, and I found my ears straining somewhat. By the way, Stravinsky’s recording has some useful riffle sound effects which help the ‘cards’ imagery in that long recitative Duet scene with Tom and Shadow which are absent with Craft. The timps are also a bit boomy in the Naxos recording, such as at the end of Act 3 scene 1, but this is another minor caveat.

While we are dealing with negatives, there is an aspect of the singing which bothered me just a little throughout. Jayne West is a star as Anne Trulove, and I have no complaints about her gorgeously innocent performance. Her gently simple final Lullaby is guaranteed to raise a tear. I am also greatly in admiration of just about everyone else, but for me the principal male characters Tom Rakewell and Nick Shadow, and Father Trulove for that matter, lack vocal variety and therefore remain rather two-dimensional as characters. Tom and Nick both have a hard-edged projection to their voices which softens little, even when the pair of them are supposedly in the hushed atmosphere of the dark and mysterious graveyard. John Cheek as Nick Shadow gives pretty much 110% of his rich and powerful bass at all times, and comes across as more of an irresistible force than menacing presence. To be fair, Jon Garrison does give us some admirable restraint once he has been struck mad by Nick, and in any case this whole subject might in fact be less of a problem that you might imagine. I don’t wish to put anyone off with these comments—we’re talking bargain purchase territory after all. It is in the nature of Stravinsky’s vocal writing that there is almost always a certain amount of ‘distance’ between what might be expected to develop as a fully rounded theatrical character and the intentional neo-classical or even neo-baroque purity of the music. The Rake’s Progress is a wonderful score, ranging from Broadway musical corn very much to the heights of human expressiveness. There is always more than enough going on to keep us from worrying if this or that line might have been given marginally more colour or inflection. What I really do like about all of the solo vocalists is how clearly they articulate the all-important text, and while there is no libretto in the booklet for this release, you shouldn’t really need it.

With an American cast, you might also wonder if the accents of the singers might intrude to scandalise European sensibilities. This is not often the case, though there are one or two ‘The Waltons’ moments, such as when Trulove calls Anne, Anne! at the end of the Quietly, night aria, Act 1 Scene 3. The choir does very well and are stylishly punchy, but the satellite characters do leap out somewhat, and this is a mixed blessing on occasion. Shirley Love is very wobbly as Mother Goose, though this could easily be intentional. Wendy White begins imperious and perfectly and appropriately unsympathetic as the spoiled Baba the Turk, but mellows nicely for the You love him, seek to set him right scene. I was also glad to hear the smashing of crockery in her tiff with Tom in Act 2 is every bit as juicy as in Stravinsky’s 1964 version. Melvin Lowery’s Sellem is an energetic NYC auctioneer. The brief Keeper’s solo is alas unmemorable, but the part was never likely to steal the show.

There are numerous recordings of The Rake’s Progress around these days, and I still have an affection for the Decca recording with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Ricardo Chailly, though Cathryn Pope’s Anne Trulove leaves a bit of a beige gap in an otherwise strong team of soloists. If it’s the best of the best of modern recording you are looking for at any price, then the critics seem fairly universal in praise of Kent Nagano’s 1995 Lyons Opera recording on Erato, though I don’t have this to hand for comparison. As far as the Sony Box/Naxos competition goes you can easily accommodate both—Stravinsky having a bit more unruly bite and grit, Craft winning in terms of refinement but at the same time losing out in terms of pithy character. What Craft does manage is to bring out the sheer wit in several little moments of Stravinsky’s score—more so than the composer himself did. I laughed out loud in a few places which might not have been intentional, but you simply must find fun in all those corners and cadences—vocal and tonal—which Stravinsky throws in to disarm us and allow us up for air in this most human and intense of dramas.

The Rake’s Progress holds a fascination for us in the 21st century, in the first place as a ‘classic’ and iconic work from one of the last century’s greatest composers, but also as one in possession of the magical tensions one of music’s turning points. In the late 1940s and early 1950s there was a wind of change, many of the protagonists of which both held Stravinsky as a respected statesman of contemporary music making, but who also already knew his style and idiom, and were more than prepared to see the new opera as rather old hat. The opera stands at the cusp of this transition in Stravinsky’s work, between the development or recycling of old formulae, and the decision whether or not to break new ground in order to compete with the new generation of composers. In the end, the intangible alchemy which was Stravinsky’s gift for creating remarkable music, combined in The Rake’s Progress with a penetrating insight into human nature and frailty, created a masterpiece which transcended and survived all of those internal and external musical revolutions. That we have such a direct link to Stravinsky’s living thoughts and intentions in Robert Craft and such a powerful performance makes this recording—even with its imperfections—as much a ‘must have’ as the composer’s own.

Patricia Kelly
Courier Mail, June 2009

Conductor Robert Craft, a Stravinsky expert, chose a fine cast in soprano Jayne West (Anne Trulove), Jon Garrison (Rakewell) and John Cheek (Nick Shadow) to head the solo team accompanied by the Orchestra of St Luke’s and Gregg Smith Singers. In this digital re-release of an earlier production, the sound has clarity and vitality. The singing is splendidly poised in the elegant neo-classical setting. West’s soprano glows in her cabaletta I go, I go to him, with its shades of Mozart’s Come scoglio from Cosi. As Nick Shadow, Cheek’s sturdy singing creates a menacing Mephistopheles leading the rake to Bedlam, and although Garrison’s tenor is stressed at times, he expresses the folly and pathos of his rakish role. Clear diction helps involvement in this witty tale of woe.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

As we have progressed through Robert Craft’s complete Stravinsky survey, I have commented on his access to the composer’s final thoughts, that fact giving this Rake’s Progress a unique status. We are well aware from Stravinsky’s own recordings that his approach as a conductor to his music changed over the years, and without anything available after his live 1953 Metropolitan Opera recording [8.111266–67], Craft would seem to show that Stravinsky may latterly have wanted a more mellow approach. Craft, after all, was the one person who worked with him through much of the opera’s creative process. Certainly this reading would fit into mainstream opera with Italian influences, and we must remember that Stravinsky insisted it was premiered in Italy and not in his ‘native’ New York. The story takes place in mid-eighteenth century London, and recalls the progressive downfall of Tom Rakewell who variously indulges in the ‘delights’ of life in the city. The most extensive work Stravinsky composed—he always feared he would not complete it, starting work on it when he was already 66—and he contented himself with a chamber opera utilising a small orchestral ensemble. The cast is here entirely American, and is headed by the tenor, Jon Garrison, as Rakewell, a fine lyric singer who has specialised in 20th century music. His beloved, Anne Trulove, has the fresh and young voice of Jayne West bringing an innocence to the character. The powerful voice of John Cheek takes the sinister Nick Shadow, with Arthur Woodley as Father Trulove to complete the leading quartet. The discs originate from studio sessions in 1994, and since then there have been two critically acclaimed recordings with high profile casts, and I would not be without either, but Craft’s must stand as a unique insight, his Orchestra of St Luke’s providing the most detailed accompaniment, while the recording balances the forces to perfection.

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