Stravinsky / The Firebird / Dorati

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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White Hot Front Row Center sound on side one – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can. This is the first time the Mercury Firebird has ever made it to the site, and this copy is killer.

Side One

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Side Two

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.


Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys stereo-wise. Recordings of this quality are the reason there are $10,000+ front ends in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the rest of instruments of the orchestra.

TRACK LISTING

Introduction And The Enchanted Garden Of Kastchei
Visit Of The Firebird Followed By Prince Ivan
Dance Of The Firebird
Prince Ivan Captures The Firebird
An Appearance Of Thirteen Princesses
Game Of The Princesses With The Golden Apples
Sudden Appearance Of Prince Ivan
Round-Dance Of The Princesses
Daybreak
The Demonic Bells, Apparition Of Monster-Guards Of Kastchei And The Capture Of Prince Ivan
Dialogue Of Prince Ivan And Kastchei
Infernal Dance Of Kastchei And His Court And The Lullaby
Kastchei’s Death
Animation Of The Petrified Knights And General Rejoicing

The Firebird – Carnegie Hall Website

The Paris-based Ballets Russes acquired fame, if not fortune, through the staging of exotic ballets on Russian themes. The company’s ingenious impresario Sergei Diaghilev knew that to make ends meet he needed to present French theatergoers with a Russia that was spellbindingly barbaric, fantastic, and flickering with the flames of revolution. The ballets that Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev between 1910 and 1913 trafficked in these neo-nationalist stereotypes. The third of them, a parable of virgin sacrifice on the ancient Slavic steppe called The Rite of Spring, earned Stravinsky his greatest success, though less because of the music than the choreography.

The performance featured dirty dancing (muddy rather than sexual) and, combined with the music, its premiere precipitated a near-riot.

In contrast, Stravinsky’s first Diaghilev ballet, The Firebird, made Russia chic, cool. The look of the ballet was so dazzling as to influence French fashion, and the music provided relief from the somber prevailing trends of Impressionism and Expressionism.

Ironically, nothing in the ballet was original. The scenario is a kasha of Russian fairytale and myth, the most important characters being the good Prince Ivan, the evil Kashchei the Deathless, and the mythical Firebird. In the first tableau, Ivan dances his way into the supernatural realm of Kashchei and becomes trapped after falling in love with one of the 13 princesses whom, Ivan belatedly learns, are being held against their will. (Kashchei is operating the folkloric equivalent of a brothel.) In the second tableau, Kashchei’s spell is broken, his kingdom dissolved, and the princesses freed. Throughout, the Firebird serves as Ivan’s magical helper.

The ballet’s choreographer, Michel Fokine, is seen as an innovator, freeing ballet from the grip of moribund classical technique. The dramatic structure of The Firebird, however, does not differ that much from an old-fashioned pas d’action. The music is likewise rooted in the past, still under the powerful spell that Stravinsky’s teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov cast. As in Rimsky’s fairytale operas, “good” in The Firebird is denoted by consonant harmonies and tonalities, evil by generous splashes of chromaticism and tone-semitone (octatonic) scale segments. The hero, Ivan, is associated with the guilelessly soulful Russian folk: His theme is based on a Russian protyazhnaya, a “melismatic” song expressing melancholic sentiments. There are two borrowings in the score from Rimsky-Korsakov’s collection of 100 folksongs: “In the Garden,” assigned to the oboe for the round dance of the princesses; and “By the Gate the Pine Tree Swayed,” given to the French horn in the ballet’s glowing apotheosis.

What turned The Firebird from derivative potpourri into a masterpiece is Stravinsky’s updating and backdating of the lessons Rimsky-Korsakov taught him. The magic lies in the elaborate orchestration and the excitingly uneven rhythmic writing. Stravinsky changes the orchestration of his themes at each repetition, breaks them down into their constituent parts, pushes their accents across the bar-line, and moves them out of sync with their own accompaniments. He made the folklore at the heart of the score fantastic, giving French audiences the exotic Russia of their imaginations.