Petrushka – The Firebird

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Klaus Tennstedt, conductor

LPO, 2018

This recording brings together the first two masterpieces that Igor Stravinsky wrote for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: Petrushka (presented in the 1947 version) and the Suite from The Firebird (1919 version). The works were live recorded at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall during two different performances in 1992. They are performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Klaus Tennstedt, who at that time was the Orchestra’s principal conductor and music director.

Tennstedt’s name is usually associated with German music and composers. He recorded the complete cycle of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. His renditions of Mahler’s works, together with Anton Bruckner’s, are those which won him wide critical acclaim. This said, his performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Firebird is equally fine and noteworthy, as I am going immediately to explain.

Petrushka and The Firebird: the Performance

Even though there is extreme attention to the moods and situations of the two works, the main feature shared by both Petrushka and The Firebird is the clearness and rigour with which Tennstedt conducts them. The development is never mechanical or expectable and it is scrupulously and methodically controlled. Above all, he reveals precision and concentration. It becomes really easy to understand the conductor’s aim and to follow him throughout the lush melodies of Petrushka or the soulful and brilliant tunes of The Firebird. Thanks to his straightforward vigour, Tennstedt is able to give prominence to every feature and to make it appear vivid and intense.

The other, amazing quality of the present recording is the brightness of the orchestral colours. The London Philharmonic Orchestra plays wonderfully, but there is more than this. It is the way in which the conductor elicits the sparkling sounds from the orchestra that makes them irresistible. They are especially remarkable in the woodwinds and particularly rich in Petrushka, while the Firebird, despite its shimmering colours, is much more varied and subtle in its nuances. It can be said that Petrushka is the lively part of the recording and that there it is really possible to listen to “colourful” music where a hint of carelessness and lightness is always present. The Suite from The Firebird, for its part, is the work where to find soaring melodies and lyricism – a lyricism that is all due to the conductor’s sensitivity.