The late Sir Colin Davis's 1978 Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet was the very first compact disc I ever bought, way back in the early Eighties when Philips and Sony introduced CDs to America. I remember I had a grand selection of about a dozen classical releases total to choose from at my local Tower Records store back then, and I played the Stravinsky disc on one of those early Magnavox top-loading players. Interestingly, I soon sold the player to a friend who is using it to this day; the thing was built like a brick. Anyway, back to the topic, a lot people, myself included, complain about today's exorbitant CD prices, but I must point out that this 2002 rerelease two-disc set under review costs today about the same as I paid for the single disc over thirty years ago, and the two-disc set includes three more full-length Stravinsky ballets. Understandably, you may find it difficult to find a new copy of it, since Philips has been out of business for many years, but you should be able to find it used at a genuinely bargain price.
Philips remastered the recording in their 96 kHz, 24-bit Superbit transfer series, but I can't honestly say the sound of The Firebird is much better than it was on the old disc. It doesn't matter, though, because the sonics were always outstanding, just as the performance has held up after all these years. Both the sound and interpretation are first-rate--refined, and elegant. This is a magical "Firebird," with all the subtle orchestral colors neatly traced out in delicate pastels, and all the overt drama underscored in great swathes of thunder. The Concertgebouw ensemble is just the orchestra to convey these wide extremes of music and sound, too. Perhaps some listeners would opt for a closer, more clinical aural picture, but I prefer the strong, resonant quality of the hall reinforcing the performance. This remains one of my favorite Firebirds on record (although, to be fair, Dorati's recording for Mercury does surpasses it in my view), and it's also good to have it properly indexed at last. Yes, that early CD had exactly one track on it; this newer edition has fifteen.
|Sir Colin Davis|
Davis's Petrushka, on the other hand, is quite good, very much the picturesque and sometimes eerie showpiece it has always been; and it comes in sound that is, if anything, even more vivid than in the other two ballets.
Bringing up the rear is Davis's rendition of Orpheus, which he recorded in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. I can't say I care much for the performance or the sound, but that may be a reaction based largely on my not caring overmuch for the 1947 composition itself. The sonics here seem softer, slightly harsher, and more recessed than in the other recordings. However, it again makes a good filler, especially to get a taste of the composer's later work.
Anyway, buy the set for The Firebird and Petrushka, among the better performances you'll find, with The Rite of Spring and Orpheus marking time for the curious.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: