WORKS: Scherzo Fantastique; The Firebird
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Thierry Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 165
It is a century since Stravinsky received his big break and was commissioned by Diaghilev to write The Firebird, the work that would be the sensation of the 1910 Ballets Russes season in Paris.
Diaghilev had been impressed by the composer’s Scherzo Fantastique in January 1909, and this surprisingly rarely heard work makes a fine coupling (though it is a shame that Fireworks, which was first performed in the same concert, could not also be included).
This fresh sounding live recording from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Thierry Fischer, the first made in the BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, certainly has a sense of occasion about it, with the audience erupting as the finale chorale reaches its exultant conclusion.
There is certainly some excitement, though not always for the right reasons, with the sections of the orchestra threatening to career-off in different directions during the introduction to the ‘Danse Infernale’. Nonetheless, such moments, along with other slightly scrappy passages and some acidic tuning in the more lyrical passages are relatively mild quibbles.
More problematic is the way the performance occasionally loses impetus and impact. The passage depicting Katschei’s stomach pounding spells against Ivan just before the latter summons the Firebird is decidedly underwhelming.
Other matter of fact moments make it easy to forget that this is a ballet and the periodic absence of the drama and driving rhythmic incisiveness found by Rattle (EMI) or Dorati (Mercury) prevents this being more than a reminder of a fine evening. Christopher Dingle