RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Le Coq d'Or STRAVINSKY The Firebird (Petrenko)
I’m surprised this isn’t a regular pairing on disc: two heavily lacquered Russian tales by teacher and pupil, both featuring magical birds, composed just a few years apart. Vasily Petrenko continues his Stravinsky ballet series with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Onyx by offering the complete score to The Firebird preceded by the orchestral suite that Glazunov and Steinberg drew from Rimsky-Korsakov’s satirical opera Le coq d’or (‘The Golden Cockerel’) after his death.
The Firebird is the score where Stravinsky pays his debt to Rimsky most heavily, particularly in its exotic colouring. Here, the xylophone rattles menacingly ahead of a weighty Infernal Dance and the finale bursts with rejoicing, but the best moments in this Firebird aren’t the raucous ones. Petrenko homes in on the fine details, like a craftsman working with gold leaf and the finest of brushes. Creeping basses and glassy sul ponticello violins evoke the most sinister of nocturnal atmospheres. The firebird herself flutters from branch to branch via splendidly articulated flute-playing, while the Khorovod and Berceuse are incredibly beautiful, handled like porcelain, the conductor happy to linger over tender moments.
From its opening pinpoint trumpet cock-crow, Petrenko’s Rimsky is just as exquisite. He encourages his clarinettist to tease out the sleepy opening solo, as the lazy Tsar Dodon rules from his bed. Woodwinds coil as the seductive Queen of Shemakha coaxes him into a bumbling dance and there is military bluster in the pompous wedding procession before the golden cockerel pecks the tsar to death.
The sound in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall is warm but clear. With good booklet notes and a pleasing cover taken from Léon Bakst’s drawing of Tsarevich Ivan capturing the Firebird, this is a most attractive release.