Stravinsky's early ballet The Firebird was written for the same group of Paris-based Russians who just a few years later would shock the world with The Rite of Spring. The work features a huge orchestra that the young Stravinsky (the work was composed in 1910) handled expertly. The ballet conflated two Slavic folk tales, one about the titular magic bird and the other about a magician. The result is a hyperkinetic series of highly atmospheric events that both challenges an orchestra's specialist players and demands a lot of the conductor. The ballet was a genuine orchestral showpiece in the days of big-name conducting superstars, and the good news here is that the Symphony Orchestra of the West German Radio Cologne under Jukka-Pekka Saraste shows very few chinks in its armor as they proceed through the colorful story and rousing finale. The presence of Stravinsky's youthful Scherzo fantastique, very much influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov but hinting at many new things to come, is another plus. The only thing missing is a certain sense of necessary excess in Saraste's measured tempi and gestures, but this may be a virtue rather than a lack for some listeners. The Profil engineering team, working over several sessions at the Philharmonie Hall in Cologne (although labeled "The Cologne Broadcasts," this is apparently a studio recording, not a live broadcast), achieves spectacular results.
Stravinsky: L'Oiseau de Feu; Scherzo fantastique Review
by James Manheim