Stravinsky / The Firebird – Dorati

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird


  • One listen to either side of this pressing and you’ll see why this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time
  • The Heavy Vinyl reissues – at 45 or 33, on one disc or four, makes no difference – barely begin to capture the energy and drive Dorati brings to the work
  • “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.”
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

Neither side has peak distortion or Inner Groove Distortion of any kind, which is rare for this exceptionally dynamic title in our experience.

Both sides are so clear, ALIVE, and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

This pressing boasts rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

This original Mercury pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the audience, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of The Firebird Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.


What do we love about these Living Presence Hot Stamper pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The instruments here are reproduced with remarkable fidelity. Now that’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi”, not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days.

There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange. There’s no added digital reverb (Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, et al.). The microphones are not fifty feet away from the musicians (Water Lily) nor are they inches away (Three Blind Mice).

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this one up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

Vintage Recordings – What to Listen For

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments (especially the guitar and percussion) will lack the full complement of harmonic information of which they are capable.

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the late ’50s and early ’60s. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on The Firebird

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

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 the instruments of the orchestra.

A Must Own Classical Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Classical Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.


Side One

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 Appeareance Of Thirteen Princesses
Game Of The Princesses With The Golden Apples

Side Two

Sudden Appearance Of Prince Ivan
Round-Dance Of The Princesses
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.

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