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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Golden Cockerel – Suite [26:27]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird (1910) [48:52]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. 2017, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
ONYX 4175 [75:29]

This is a sparkling recording, one that has been cleverly put together to show Stravinsky’s indebtedness to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, with these two works occupying the same sound world as each other. With less than five years between these works, they both display a brilliance and lavishness in their orchestration, something passed on from master to pupil, and something that makes this coupling ideal.

The disc opens with the four-movement suite taken from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1907 opera Le Coq d’or, which had been premiered the year after the composer’s death, with the Suite being drawn together by Alexander Glazunov and Maximilian Osseyevich Steinberg shortly after the composer’s death. The Suite retains the integrity of Rimsky-Korsakov’s original music, with Glazunov and Steinberg retaining the music and orchestration, only adapting the music to fit into the Suite without altering or adding anything. It begins with the crow of the cockerel on solo trumpet as a sort of clarion call for the whole work which is based on a poem by Alexander Pushkins 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, in which the Cockerel announces when danger is near. The Suite’s four movements have descriptive titles that reflect the action of the opera and the poem well and forms a series of tone pictures to tell the story. The performance is excellent, with the clarity of the recording helping to bring out every nuance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s wonderful orchestration much more than in Igor Markevitch’s classic DG recording (00289 479 0530) or Loris Tjeknavorian’s sonically more detailed account for ASV (CD DCA 772). Here we have an exciting performance and a recording which does justice to this wonderful music, one which goes strait to the top of my preferences.

This is followed by arguably Stravinsky’s first masterpiece, his ballet L’Oiseau de feu which was composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and premiered at the Opéra de Paris on the 25th June 1910. It was an instant success with both the critics and public and is a retelling of the old Russian fairy tale of the Firebird, with choreography by Michel Fokine to the scenario by Alexandre Benois. The ballet shows many of the attributes that were to make Igor Stravinsky a household name. It might not have been as shocking in its day as Le Sacre du printemps, but there is a foreshadowing here of the composer’s most famous work. What this ballet clearly displays is Stravinsky’s art as an orchestrator, here he paints with orchestral colour, something that comes to the fore in this new recording, more so than in any of the other five recordings I have. The use of the solo horn part VIII, probably the orchestras principal, Tim Jackson, is excellent, his clear and sustained control throughout something which is then picked up by the other solo instruments and the strings is a model of how this section should be done. Whilst in the next section and the famous Infernal dance we have the clearest indication of what was to come from Stravinsky, with the use of brass the clearest pointer to The Rite of Spring. What also comes to the fore here is the influence of Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, his ideas of a musical colourist are clearly evident in the way that Stravinsky employs the full palette of instruments to enliven the work. Here Vasily Petrenko highlights the differing aspects of the music and nuances of orchestration through the sections of his orchestra to great effect making this amongst the finest recordings of this work that I have heard.

This is an excellent and colourful recording of both works, one which clearly shows the link between the two composers and one which is captured in the wonderful acoustic of the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The notes, which refers to the link between tutor and pupil by Daniel Jaffé are also very good, making this a most desirable recording.

Stuart Sillitoe


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