Stravinsky (The) Firebird (1910 version); (Le) Chant du Rossignol.

A sonic spectacular – that must be heard to be believed

Author: 
Ivan March
Stravinsky's The Firebird – Ballet & SuiteStravinsky's The Firebird – Ballet & Suite

STRAVINSKY (The) Firebird (1910 version); (Le) Chant du Rossignol.

  • (The) Firebird, '(L')oiseau de feu'
  • (Le) Chant du Rossignol, 'Song of the Nightingale'

This striking SACD provides remarkably high-calibre recordings: both works sound pretty marvellous played back through normal CD equipment. But if you have a good four-speaker system and set the rear volume level gently and judiciously, the sound is almost unbelievably realistic. Indeed, this Flemish performance of The Firebird is one of the finest orchestral recordings I have heard. Moreover, the music is miraculously well played.

Stravinsky’s vivid scoring lends itself to demonstration sound, so the comparison is another landmark recording, by the LSO under Dorati from 1964, recently remastered for three-channel SACD (Mercury, 11/91R). The performance is wonderfully vibrant, with clear, forwardly projected Mercury sound; the effect is visceral.

Yoel Levi’s totally idiomatic and involving reading, though not lacking drama, is more warmly relaxed and evocatively atmospheric, with the Flemish RO playing with ravishing sensitivity. Orchestral textures are delectably diaphonous and transluscent: everything seems to be in a magical haze, with iridescent colouring at the ‘Appearance of the Firebird’, while the music for the ‘Enchanted Princesses’ is exquisitely tender.

I did feel that the piano-pianissimo opening was a little too quiet (Dorati’s gruffer double basses are more telling) but the ear soon revels in the wide range of playing and sound: the whole progression of infernal music for Kashchei brings some quite astounding sounds.

For the great closing rejoicing, the lovely horn melody seemingly appears out of the mist, and the climax builds slowly and magically until the brass enter. Then, where Dorati continues the bold forward pressure, Levi pulls back a little, to create a more spacious, no less involving, climax.

In Song of the Nightingale, the atmospheric Flemish version is similarly telling, the orchestra again playing with refinement and beauty, especially at the close. Dorati and the LSO are first class, too, but the extra dimension of the Glossa recording makes one feel the orchestra really is out there, beyond the speakers.

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