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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Fireworks - Fantasy for Orchestra (1909) [3:57]
The Firebird - complete ballet (1910) [41:12]
Tango (1940 rev 1953) [3:31]
Scherzo à la russe (1944) [3:50]
The Song of the Nightingale - symphonic poem (1917) [21:56]
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
Rec. Watford Town Hall 7 June 1959 (Firebird); 22, 24 June 1964 (Nightingale); 27 June 1964 (Fireworks; Scherzo); 7 July 1964 (Tango). ADD
SACD reviewed in CD mode


The Firebird ballet is best heard complete where its narrative shape is allowed to emerge with dramatic inevitability. Dorati completes the whole score in record time and it works like a dream or more accurately like a fairy-tale. For a recording made in 1959 the Mercury team of Cozart and Fine produced astonishingly detailed results. Not only is the sound subtle and wide-ranging it has an nuanced atmospheric signature that wins it friends whenever reissued. I have heard various versions over the years including Haitink (Philips) and Stravinsky (Sony) and I would not want to be without this. I first fell under the spell of this disc when it was issued for £1.00 on the super-budget Contour LP label (6870 574). Then it was reissued on Mercury CD 432 0122 coupled exactly as on this disc. The music sinuously spins its spell and traces its lineage back to Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov (Antar, Sadko, Sheherazade, Golden Cockerel) rather like the supernatural fabled tapestry explored by Prokofiev in his First Violin Concerto and similar though less claustrophobic to Griffes’ Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan. Gradually Stravinsky peeled away from such frank romanticism becoming increasingly ‘objective’ from The Rite to Petrushka and onwards and outwards. If the years have left a suggestion of steel in the LSO violin tone that is the only artefact, apart from a low level analogue ‘shush’, that dates this recording. Otherwise the sound is something to revel in; to put it another way you soon cease to perceive the sound and listen to the music now laid bare with sensuous transparency.

Presentation is good with the ballet in 21 tracks and fully annotated in the booklet. Fireworks was the work that drew Diaghilev to commission The Firebird from Stravinsky. It is a peacock of a piece - a roman candle, spilling sparks of many colours. Tango is a game little work with a prominent role for guitar and a bitter leaning towards Weill. More commercial is the Scherzo written in 1944 for the Paul Whiteman Band - it is excitingly rhythmic, not neo-classical, lemon bitter and bumptiously confident. The Nightingale tone poem is an offshoot from his 1914 opera taken under Diaghilev’s wing when the composer was let down. Here the style is much more astringent - an emerging modest dissonance links with Petrushka.

This disc represents one of the last century’s greatest recordings. If you have any affection for the Russian tradition or for unbridled voluptuous orchestral extravagance sensationally recorded then this must be on your shopping list.

Rob Barnett

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