Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite; Apollon musagète; Scherzo fantastique

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: The Firebird Suite; Apollon musagète; Scherzo fantastique
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 458 142-2
The cartoon booklet cover for the RCA disc shows Stravinsky and Michael Tilson Thomas driving through Hollywood (MTT at the wheel, needless to say). Its brashness sets the tone for some of the music included: the Circus Polka written for an elephant ballet at Barnum & Bailey’s; the brilliant Scherzo à la russe; the Scènes de ballet commissioned by the impresario Billy Rose, of Carmen Jones fame. (This last piece gave rise to a famous telegraphic exchange, with Rose assuring the composer, ‘YOUR MUSIC GREAT SUCCESS STOP COULD BE SENSATIONAL SUCCESS IF YOU WOULD AUTHORIZE ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT RETOUCH ORCHESTRATION STOP BENNETT ORCHESTRATES EVEN COLE PORTER.’ Stravinsky wired back, ‘SATISFIED WITH GREAT SUCCESS.’) But there is also more serious stuff: the glittering proto-serial ballet Agon, a real masterpiece; and the austere, genuinely serial Aldous Huxley Variations. This is a hugely enjoyable disc, superbly played and recorded.

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No less impressive are Chailly’s virtuoso accounts of the brilliant early Scherzo fantastique and the 1945 Firebird Suite. The string orchestral Apollo is slightly lacking in mystery where needed, but the playing itself – including Jaap van Zweden’s stylish violin solos – is again first-rate. Misha Donat