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Stravinsky – The Firebird, Fireworks, The Song of the Nightingale, Tango, Scherzo à la russe (APE)

Stravinsky - The Firebird, Fireworks, The Song of the Nightingale, Tango, Scherzo à la russe (APE)
Stravinsky – The Firebird, Fireworks, The Song of the Nightingale, Tango, Scherzo à la russe (APE)

Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Antal Doráti
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: ape (image+cue)
Label: Mercury
Size: 337 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Fireworks
02. The Firebird (1910) – Introduction
03. The Firebird (1910) – Kashchei’s enchanted garden
04. The Firebird (1910) – Appearance of the Firebird pursued by Ivan Tsarevich
05. The Firebird (1910) – Dance of the Firebird
06. The Firebird (1910) – Ivan Tsarevich captures the Firebird
07. The Firebird (1910) – Supplication of the Firebird
08. The Firebird (1910) – Appearance of the thirteen enchanted Princesses
09. The Firebird (1910) – Game of the Princesses with the golden apples
10. The Firebird (1910) – Sudden appearance of Ivan Tsarevich
11. The Firebird (1910) – Round dance of the Princesses
12. The Firebird (1910) – Daybreak
13. The Firebird (1910) – Magic carillon, appearance of Kashchei’s guardian monsters and capture of Ivan Tsarevich
14. The Firebird (1910) – Arrival of Kashchei
15. The Firebird (1910) – Dialogue between Ivan Tsarevich and Kashchei
16. The Firebird (1910) – Intercession of the Princesses
17. The Firebird (1910) – Intervention of the Firebird
18. The Firebird (1910) – Dance of Kashchei’s retinue under the spell of the Firebird
19. The Firebird (1910) – Infernal dance of all Kashchei’s subject’s
20. The Firebird (1910) – Lullaby of the Firebird
21. The Firebird (1910) – Kashchei’s awakening
22. The Firebird (1910) – Kashchei’s death – Darkness
23. The Firebird (1910) – Collapse of Kashchei’s palace and dissolution of all enchantments – Reanimation of the petrified prisoners – General rejoicing
24. Tango
25. Scherzo à la Russe for Jazz Orchestra – Version for Symphony Orchestra
26. The Song of the Nightingale – Introduction
27. The Song of the Nightingale – Chinese March
28. The Song of the Nightingale – Song of the Nightingale
29. The Song of the Nightingale – The Mechanical Nightingale’s Game

A sensational remastering of a sensational Firebird

This, very famous, recording of the Firebird complete ballet was made as long ago as 1959. I mention this because, listening to this disc, the sound still remains sensationally real, of wide dynamics and of truthful balance. It always did sound remarkable, and I bought the original LP way back then, but clearly much loving work has been done on these precious recordings to bring them fully up to modern sonic expectations. So much for the sound.

The performances have been well worth whatever effort has been made to improve and to preserve them. Dorati, a firebrand conductor given the right material, is here paired with the LSO which was galvanised into absolutely sizzling form. At that time the orchestra was arguably the best in the UK with a corporate unity that still allowed for individuality, and with a recognisable brilliance of timbre. This special combination suits the appropriately named Firebird precisely. This recording far outshines the later remake that Dorati made with the Detroit orchestra and which performance simply fails to ‘lift’ so spectacularly as this at any point. That, even with the benefit of more modern recording techniques.

The rest of the disc is hardly any less successful both as performances and as recordings. The recordings were made in 1964 when the orchestra was still at the same level and Dorati was , once more, on good form. The Fireworks, Tango and Scherzo are all lightweight works which are both good humoured and relatively easy to listen to. The Nightingale symphonic poem takes Stravinsky off into an oriental phase. The writing is, appropriately perhaps, more reserved in character and is immediately less appealing for that reason but still accessible. It remains highly demanding of the players who, once more, rise superbly to the challenges, not least the trumpet player. The earlier fine performance by Reiner is here improved upon. (Since writing this review the Reiner SACD verson of the Nightingale has been bought now re-coupled with one of the finest Scheherazades ever recorded. The final movement of that was reputedly recorded in one take without any splicing and the excitement generated has to be heard to be believed. The Nightingale is of the same quality and the sound of both has been considerably improved in the SACD format and best heard through a surround system. The trumpet playing of Adolf Herseth matches that of Denis Clift on the Dorati recording. This, in no way, replaces the above Firebird but is a real challenge to the Nightingale! Well worth having both while stocks last).

This disc will be bought mainly for the Firebird element but the additional works are all worth getting to know and are all very well performed and recorded, especially bearing in mind the recording date. No such provisos need to be made for the Firebird though, on any count. This still remains, arguably, the best version that can be bought at any price and by any criteria.

I would suggest therefore that this very special disc warrants the most serious consideration by purchasers looking for an ‘only’ version or for collectors interested in alternative versions.

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