Stravinsky: The Firebird, complete (SACD review)

Also, Fireworks; Tango; Scherzo a la russe; The Song of the Nightingale. Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 470 643-2.

Maestro Antal Dorati’s recording of the complete Firebird ballet on this hybrid SACD from Mercury is self recommending. Recorded in 1959, it has been among my two or three top choices in this repertoire for nearly half a century. Presented on this disc in a new three-channel mix and in the two-channel stereo CD transfer supervised by its original recording director, Wilma Cozart Fine, in the early Nineties, the sound is exceptionally lucid, dynamic, and well spread out. Indeed, it is one of the best-sounding discs of any kind you’ll find, a real sonic treasure. There is some very slight background noise during the quieter moments, but it is hardly an intrusion and not at all objectionable. The performance itself impresses one as ideally balanced, with the colorful music fully realized, the drama intact, and the lyrical beauty clearly presented.

Accompanying the Firebird are three short works, Fireworks, Tango, and Scherzo a la russe, all nicely recorded in 1964. But the big surprise for anyone who hasn’t heard it is The Song of the Nightingale. It is nothing short of astonishing. For me, there has only been one other performance the Nightingale worthy of mention alongside Dorati’s, and that is Reiner’s earlier account on RCA Living Stereo. Yet Dorati’s recording actually has the clearer, more overtly spectacular sound.

If you’re not familiar with the piece, The Song of the Nightingale was an opera Stravinsky helped score, from which the composer excerpted the symphonic suite we have here. He always liked the suite best, saying “a perfect rendering could only be achieved in the concert hall.” The work recounts the story of a nightingale in the court of a Chinese emperor, a bird whose favor gets displaced by a mechanical bird.  When the machine breaks down and the emperor becomes so dejected he almost dies, the real bird must return and right the situation. It’s a fairy tale, and Stravinsky’s fairy-tale music fits it perfectly. More important, Dorati’s light, airy, fairy-tale direction perfectly underpins every facet of the performance.

For those folks who own SACD players and ancillary equipment, the recording us, as I said before, available in three-channel stereo, just as Mercury originally recorded them. Otherwise, you listen as I did, to the regular two-channel layer. Remastered in DSD (Direct Stream Digital), the results are not just satisfying, they’re outstanding.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa