Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird (1910) [46.34]
Scherzo fantastique, Op.3 [12.03]
Fireworks, Op.4 [3.55]
Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit
rec. Church of St Eustache, Montreal, October 1984
DECCA PRESTO CD 414409-2 [62.32]

During the early years of CD and digital recording, the work undertaken by Charles Dutoit and his Montreal forces served to give an indication of the real advantages of the medium. This was at a time when some digital recordings produced a harsh edge which served to create the idea that the medium lacked the warmth of LP and analogue. Their Ravel cycle was (and still is) one of the marvels of the catalogue, and their reading of Holst’s suite The Planets remains even today one of the best recordings ever put onto disc. Others of their recordings received a more mixed reception, and it is interesting that this reissue of their reading of three early Stravinsky scores has been left to Presto Classics to produce as one of their valuable series of re-issues.

Actually, it is more than interesting; because Dutoit and his Montreal players are ideal advocates of these almost impressionist scores from the very beginning of Stravinsky’s career. The pinpoint accuracy of the playing, and the analytical nature of the recording, misses nothing of the composer’s carefully judged ear for scoring, and at the same time the balances are naturally rendered in a way that still today continues to elude some recording engineers. Indeed, one might even say that the perception of the work is too accurate; the Infernal Dance, for example, has sounded even more ferocious in other hands. But that is to look a gift horse in the mouth. I can think of no other recording which captures the fey essence of the many magical moments in the score than this.

The two makeweights are the two earliest of Stravinsky’s orchestral scores to survive, and it is probably fair to comment that unless they had been by this particular composer they would not make more than a very occasional appearance in concert halls or record catalogues. But they are pleasant works nonetheless, and Dutoit does the best by them that can be imagined even when Fireworks lacks the fire that the subject really demands. It says something for Diaghilev’s ear for potential that on the basis of a hearing of Fireworks he selected the relatively unknown composer to produce the massive score for The Firebird when the dilatory Liadov failed to deliver.

Presto, as always, have commendably reproduced all the original booklet material from the full-price CD release. And while the original CD of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé from the same source provided no individual tracks for specific sections, here The Firebird is plentifully supplied with fourteen separate cues. I purchased this recording on its first appearance thirty years ago, and it has provided me with much enjoyment ever since. Indeed in 1999 the Penguin Guide identified it as “a clear first choice”, although it was superseded in later editions presumably because it had ceased to be listed in the catalogues. Its renewed availability is to be welcomed, even when many newer digital recordings have since arrived to compete with it.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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