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First of all, I’d like to say that this is a fantastic recording of Péter Eötvös’ first major work for the musical stage. An earlier piece, “Radames,” from 1975 was a chamber opera. “Three Sisters” is based upon the Anton Chekov play of the same name which concerns the Prozorovs, a family sinking into a dull and monotonous life, over the course of four years.

Eötvös (1944-) restructures the play into three “sequences,” each of which relates the same events, viewed from the perspectives of three different characters. Another novel feature of this work is the use of countertenors to portray the women’s roles, apparently to emphasize the timelessness of his conception. Thus, the production has an all-male cast. While this type of casting was a first for me, I soon became acclimated to it. This recording of the world premiere performance was so impressive in terms of sonics and sonorities, that I was distracted from following the phonetic Russian-English libretto. Therefore, I’ll admit that I wasn’t as dramatically involved, as I should have been.

Stylistically, this music has eclecticism within a somewhat avant-garde style, which often moves into expressionism. The use of different individual instruments functioning as doubles for the characters is effective and interesting. Even an accordion is prominently featured.

There are three “listening guides” of approximately eight minutes provided at the end of Disc Two, each of which is available in English, German and French. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered these nice features before, and they can only help! Each guide is akin to a preconcert lecture. Obviously, to fully digest this work, repetitive listening is warranted, especially without the visual elements.

As I mentioned before, this was a live recording of the world premiere and I can honestly say that I’ve NEVER heard a live performance captured so well on CD. It’s a good thing, as the different voices and instrumental textures need to be clear. Conductor Kent Nagano (1951-) led an 18-piece ensemble in the orchestra pit and he was joined by Eötvös himself, who conducted a 50-piece orchestra from the rear of the stage. Both maestros have done a fantastic job.

The singers included countertenor Alain Aubin, countertenor Vyatcheslav Kagan-Paley and countertenor Oleg Riabets as the three sisters, each sounding their “feminine best.” As one of the suitors of “Irina,” Denis Sedov had a particularly resonant bass voice. In fact, all of the singers sang well.

Finally, kudos should be given to the 20/21 series from Deutsche Grammophon which deals with “music of our time.” Releases from this label have been outstanding in terms of recording quality and superior performances. “Three Sisters” is certainly no exception.

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