Classics Today 10/10, March 2012, Disc of the Month; “The Want List” Fanfare 11-12/2012
The Firebird was Igor Stravinsky’s first full-length ballet, but not his first collaboration with Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. In 1909, a year before the triumphant première of The Firebird, the charismatic impresario had commissioned Stravinsky to orchestrate two piano compositions by Chopin for use in another project. Evidently pleased with the result, he invited the young composer to write the music for the next production of his ballet company, to a scenario based on various well-known Russian fairy-tale characters. The score holds several moments that recall Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky’s teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, but the mature Stravinsky is already present in the superb orchestral craft and the vivid rhythmic imagination. Rather than either of the two suites which Stravinsky later prepared, Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra have chosen to record the original ballet score, allowing us to relish the enormous range of colours springing from what the composer later described as a ‘wastefully large’ orchestration. Soon after The Firebird, Stravinsky went on to influence the direction of music with Petrushka and The Rite of Spring – two scores which appear on a recent release with the same performers. That much acclaimed disc was short-listed for a 2011 Gramophone Award, named Editor’s Choice in Classic FM Magazine, and selected as Disc of the Month by the websites Classics Today and Classics Today France, and the recording itself was praised on a par with the interpretation and playing, with the reviewer in International Record Review describing ‘the efforts of the BIS recording team’ as ‘truly magnificent’. The present disc includes not only The Firebird, but also the above-mentioned Chopin orchestrations, as well as arrangements of pieces by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, ending with Stravinsky’s tongue-in-cheek 1955 Greeting Prelude for the 80th birthday of Pierre Monteux, the conductor who had given the world premières of both Petrushka and The Rite of Spring some forty years earlier.