STRAVINSKY The Firebird NIKOLAEV The Sinewaveland
Ludovic Morlot has garnered great reviews with the Seattle Symphony and it’s clear to hear why in a fine, purposeful account of the original 1910 version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. It’s a virtuoso showcase for orchestra and there are several highlights. Spidery col legno strings nag as the firebird begs to be released (track 6, 1'41") and Morlot’s princesses sparkle in their innocent game with the golden apples (track 7). The ‘Round Dance’ flows, strings sighing plaintively, and the triumphant finale – taken swiftly – features a pearly flute solo.
Competition is strong, however. Charles Dutoit’s Decca recording in Montreal still dazzles, while Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra are feverishly exciting. The best recording of recent years comes from the Bergen Philharmonic under Andrew Litton, splendidly played and superbly engineered. In the ‘Infernal Dance’, Litton whips up a heady cocktail of sulphur and fury, while Morlot’s slower pace, despite a lovely hollow timpani rumble, drains it of some excitement.
The performance suffers the disadvantages of being recorded in concert. There appears to be a lot of close-miking, which robs the sound of the opulent sheen the Bergen Phil enjoy. Also, in the ‘Daybreak’ section, in the studio the Bergen trumpets can be positioned to surround the listener, whereas in concert, the Seattle trumpets are in a fixed position on stage.
Vladimir Nikolaev’s The Sinewaveland: Homage to Jimi Hendrix is the unusual coupling, turning the entire orchestra into a rock guitar, often stomping frenetically, ending with a unison ‘yeah’ which is far from cool. Sitting it alongside Stravinsky’s masterpiece does it few favours.