The practice of performing music on original instruments was once the exclusive domain of early music specialists who sought to revive the characteristic sounds of Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical instruments and ensembles scaled to proper size. The so-called "historically informed movement" eventually expanded into re-creating 19th century music, which yielded some ear-opening performances; but this practice soon began to overlap with modern interpretation and instrumentation, so the actual differences between period and modern strings or winds were minimal. For this live recording of Igor Stravinsky's 1910 version of L'oiseau de feu, the extraordinary ensemble Les Siècles brings the authentic instrument treatment to early 20th century music by employing only instruments that could have been used at the time. While certain distinctive sonorities most likely are due to the use of these vintage instruments, drawn from the ensemble's large collection of historic instruments, the quality of the performance seems more directly influenced by the small size of the ensemble and the close recording of solo lines that make the timbres stand out more clearly than they would in a full-sized symphony orchestra. One may take it on faith that a piccolo from 1902 sounds more appropriate to the era than a modern piccolo, or that the tone of an oboe made between 1905 and 1910 will be discernable to the ear, but these are fine distinctions for experts. What matters more is the interpretation by François-Xavier Roth and his superb musicians, who offer an astonishingly vivid re-creation of Stravinsky's first great ballet, and present filler works by Alexander Glazunov, Christian Sinding, Anton Arensky, and Edvard Grieg with exotic coloration and vitality. The playing, ultimately, is the thing that makes this recording a stunning success, and anyone who wants a terrific version of L'oiseau de feu should make a point to hear this one.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Les Saisons, Op. 67|
|Pieces (6) for piano, Op. 32|
|L'Oiseau de feu (1910 version)|
Tableau 1. Carillon magique, apparition des Monstres guardiens de Katcheï et capture du Prince Ivan Tsarévitch
Tableau 2. Destruction du palais de Katcheï et de ses créations magiques, retour à la vie des Chevaliers pétrifiés et réjouissance générale