An outstanding Firebird from Petrenko

Stravinsky: The Firebird & Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d’Or

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have already proved to be outstanding interpreters of Stravinsky’s ballet music both in concert and on record. An earlier Onyx release entitled Spring met with widespread praise for its searing account of The Rite of Spring. On the latest offering from Onyx we get Stravinsky’s complete Firebird ballet music coupled with the suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Le Coq d’Or.

As on the aforementioned earlier release, tihis is an imaginative coupling for which all concerned are to be congratulated. In this instance the two works can be regarded as being linked as follows. Igor Stravinsky studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and the older composer’s influence is clearly apparent in Stravinsky’s ballet scores; both of the present works were written at approximately the same time and both works contain fantastic subject matter featuring magical birds and vivid orchestration.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, Le Coq d’Or, was based upon a satirical fairy tale written by Pushkin. It tells the tale of the ill-advised King Dodon, a lazy Tsar incompetent both in war and in his ability to resist the charms of the Queen of Shemakha, who meets his end by being pecked to death by a golden cockerel! Imperial censors demanded cuts to the opera score, which they regarded as subversive, but Rimsky-Korsakov refused and instead he prepared two orchestral excerpts to be expanded into a suite. Unfortunately Rimsky-Korsakov died before the project could be realized and it was left to two his pupils, Steinberg and Glazunov, to complete the suite that opens this CD.This suite is full of the brilliant orchestration, rife with magical colors from strings, woodwinds, harp, brass, and battery, that so typifies much of Rimsky-Korsakov’s output. This is a fine performance which will become a main-stay in my collection besides such classics as those by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet and the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Evgeny Svetlanov.

After this fine start to the CD, the performance of the Stravinsky ballet music has something to live up to; and I’m delighted to say that it does so to the extent of stealing the show. To me The Firebird remains full of mystery and Petrenko gets things just right – this is a confident performance right through from the barely audible opening to the stunning, cataclysmic finale. It is an interpretation that is delicate, extrovert and serene at times as the music requires but all the while it is carefully controlled by a conductor who seems to have a natural feel for the flow of this wonderful piece. Stravinsky places many demands on the orchestral soloists and the players in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic prove to be more than capable in this stand-out performance that happily stands comparison with the outstanding recording from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle, recorded back in the 1980s.

The two works on this CD both benefit greatly from the dramatic and colourful playing that Vasily Petrenko conjures forth from the players in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and all of this has been captured to brilliant effect by Andrew Cornall, the producer, and his team of engineers and editors. Whilst this recording was reviewed in CD quality it nonetheless delivered an outstanding sonic representation of these works that puts this release into the demonstration-worthy category of CDs – one for the audiophiles as well as the music lovers! Couple that with the fine interpretations of both works and you have a winning formula that is worthy of a place in any music collection (or Christmas stocking!). Indeed this is now our top recommendation for Stravinsky’s The Firebird on a single CD.

iClassical rating: