Stravinsky – The Firebird & Symphony of Psalm

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: The Firebird; Symphony of Psalms
PERFORMER: CBSO & Chorus/Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: C 804 101 A

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It is only fitting that, 100 years after the first production, the CBSO should release a new recording of The Firebird. Stravinsky’s first masterpiece has been in the lifeblood of the orchestra for years, and their recording of the complete ballet under Simon Rattle set a new standard when first issued just over 20 years ago. More recently, the orchestra spearheaded Igorfest, an ambitious four-year exploration of every note written by the composer.

There is plenty of colour and razor-sharp playing in this new version, the recording vividly capturing the orchestra in the splendid acoustics of Symphony Hall. However, at key moments, Andris Nelsons somehow contrives to make this extraordinary music seem everyday.

The Magic Carillon lacks drive amid its clangorous swirling textures and, rather than casting evil spells of gut-wrenching power against Ivan, it sounds like Katschei is tickling him with a feather duster. The more lyrical passages are beautifully phrased, while the Infernal Dance and closing pages of the ballet are suitably rousing, but hardly hair-raising.

The Symphony of Psalms makes an intriguing pairing, and this performance has many of the right ingredients. The control in the woodwind fugue opening the second movement is mesmerising, and the CBSO Chorus is meticulous in following the nuances of the score.

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Such good work is undermined, though, by poor balance and woolliness of sound, the orchestra periodically overwhelming the chorus in the final movement’s Laudates. Christopher Dingle