When Igor Stravinsky premiered his Firebird ballet in 1910, it marked not only the beginning of a new phase in the composer's output, but a new direction in twentieth-century music. In fact, Stravinsky's more venerable mentors like Rimsky-Korsakov highly influenced the Firebird, and one can still hear the older composer's exotic orientalism throughout. Still, The Firebird was a doorway through which Petruchka (1910-11) and The Rite of Spring (1913) would later step. Even though Stravinsky's Rite would mark the true revolution, The Firebird contains the seminal directions in its second half with the introduction of Kashchei and especially in his "Infernal Dance" that would lead the way to more original thinking.
The composer derived several concert and ballet suites from the score, but for the best renditions of the complete work one must look to Antal Dorati's old LSO issue on Mercury, which no one has ever topped, or even Colin Davis's Concertgebouw effort on Philips. Until this one, that is. Kent Nagano's 1991 recording, which Virgin Classics re-released in the early 2000's, provides a top-of-the-line alternative in superb digital sound. Why it didn't do better upon its initial release, I don't know. Let's just be glad it is currently available at so low a price (used).
Then, too, Virgin engineers present the music in highly dynamic yet most natural-sounding audio. What's more, they give the orchestra a comfortably distanced miking position for a maximum imaging of depth as well as left-to-right stereo spread. Now, understand, some listeners will find the dynamic range (the spread between softest and loudest passages) a bit too wide for their taste; however, if you start at a comfortable volume setting (not too loud, though, or the crescendos may blow you out of your seat), you'll feel the impact and authority of the louder sections later on.
Add to the low cost (especially used) of this well-performed and well-recorded Firebird the coupling of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments and you have the makings of a bargain. Now, if only Virgin hadn't decided to package "The Classics" line with such drab, minimalist cover art, the whole affair might have been perfect. Oh, well, it's a small loss for a big gain.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: