Home listening: a good week for Stravinsky

The RLPO and Petrenko dazzle in The Firebird, while the Mariinsky Orchestra and Gergiev make Petrushka their own

• Two fairytale works by a revered Russian master and his genius student – Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’or suite (1907) and Stravinsky’s The Firebird (1910) – make a rich pairing in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s disc (Onyx), with its chief conductor, St Petersburg-born Vasily Petrenko. Composed a few years apart, these works demonstrate Rimsky’s brilliance as an orchestrator and Stravinsky’s debt, for all his radicalism, to the Russian tradition. The playing is voluptuous, alive and controlled: lurching, low brass in Kashchei’s Magic Garden from Firebird’s Tableau 1; gleaming, rumbustious woodwind in the Supplication, strings scurrying and sparkling in the Princesses’ Game With the Golden Apples. Brilliance of detail and narrative drive have to be held in perfect balance in Firebird. Petrenko and the RLPO, expert in both, achieve this here.

• The same year Stravinsky wrote The Firebird he began work on another ballet for Diaghilev, Petrushka, completing it early in 1911. Valery Gergiev and the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, have made, surprisingly for this most famous of Stravinsky works, their first recording (Mariinsky label). Performing the 1911 score, rather than the revised 1947 version, Gergiev and his players breathe glorious, idiomatic colour into this Russian puppet story. It’s coupled with the far less familiar Jeu de cartes (1937), Stravinsky’s card-game ballet in three “deals”, composed for Balanchine. Even if you have a Petrushka recording already, this is absolutely worth the small investment.

• If you want to know more about Stravinsky, there’s a daunting amount of information around. Books by Stephen Walsh (two volumes, in generous detail) or Jonathan Cross (one volume, slim and authoritative) are equally good, depending on time and taste. An entertaining shortcut is The Listening Service’s Igor Stravinsky: Understood Best by Children and Animals on BBC Sounds. Tom Service is the lively and intelligible guide.

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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