ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Igor Stravinsky - The Firebird

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IGOR STRAVINSKY - The Firebird - Symphony of Psalms - Andris Nelsons (Conductor) - City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - CBSO Chorus - 4011790804125 - Orfeo C804101

Unlike opera, which has a detailed storyline, and if not, at least comes with a full synopsis, written text, translations, character descriptions and so on, ballet only has the music to tell its story. Of course when you experience a live staged version of a ballet, the costumes and background sets certainly go a long way in setting the tone and atmosphere of the tale being told, but when listened to via a CD, the only thing that can set off your imagination is the music. And that is where great creative minds stand apart from the rest of the pack. Igor Stravinsky scored his ballet The Firebird with so much detail and so much orchestral colors that this 19th century Russian legend just springs to life.

That is precisely what the conductor Andris Nelsons has captured so well in this new recording of this old favorite. The orchestral detail is stunning in this performance. The individual instruments used to set the tone and character of each scene are always set in relief against the main orchestral fabric and almost give the music a three dimensional effect. His pacing and sense of the drama and scope within the score are always front and centre. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has rarely sounded better, and the woodwinds in particular produce some beautifully captivating sounds in this recording. And for a change, the extra work on the disc is not the Rite of Spring, or Pétrouchka, but rather another hit from Stravinsky's totally different style and older period, the austere and solemn Symphony of Psalms for choir and orchestra. And here again, despite the fact that the CBSO Chorus is about 140 strong, their clarity of textures and detailed delivery is impressive, all of which is carried out with a fine-tuned control of their immense power.

Most recordings of The Firebird try to impress by their flash and sparkle. This one does just that and then some, and as an added bonus, carries you deep inside the story.

Jean-Yves Duperron