1910: Stravinsky: Firebird Suite

MONDAY, March 30, 2020

Stravinsky: Firebird Suite, age 39

The Firebird Suite

Instrumentation:

  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes (2nd doubles English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, triangle, xylophone
  • harp, piano/celesta
  • strings

The long story is above in the Wiki link. The short story is that Stravinsky took the music from his ballet and made a suite, then did three versions. The last, from 1945, contains more music and is the one we know today. He wrote it at the end of his earlier style, which was far more in the grand Romantic style.

Without going into technical details, last night I found a recording from 1957 that by the sound I would have thought was recorded this year. Stokowski conducted, and he had an incredibly intimate relationship with this music. From the Wiki article:

“Leopold Stokowski recorded The Firebird Suite eight times, more than any other conductor: with the Philadelphia Orchestra (acoustically) in 1924, and again (electrically) in 1927 and 1935; with the All-American Youth Orchestra in 1941 and the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1942; with his own Symphony Orchestra in 1950; and in two stereo recordings, with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1957, and finally, at the age of 85, with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1967.

Why this recording sounds so good…

Recordings made at the end of the 50s and in the early 60s used tape recorders that were capable of recording sound in a way that can hardly be equaled today, but no one heard these tapes except the sound engineers who made them. Recordings were then released on records that were far less capable of delivering the full sound that was on the tapes. In addition, the record players that most people owned at that time were too inferior to reproduce the sound properly. Later, when some of these early recordings were remastered on CDs, the sound was clipped and brittle due to limitations in the newer technology.

Direct Stream Digital

Fast forward: we now have the capability of taking those amazing tapes and re-mastering them in a way that allows the average listener to hear what those tapes sounded like and still sound like, played from those original Ampex machines. DSD is the game-changer. I don’t understand much of the technical stuff, but the result is a sound that is mind-blowing.

The result is that this 1957 recording of sounds as good as anything I’ve ever heard of The Firebird but also is performed than another other I’ve heard. It was like going back in a time machine to hear Stokowski, the legendary conductor of Fantasia. This means that we hear a conductor who was born in 1882 at the same time as Stravinksy, who was renowned for his conducting and recording innovations. That alone is fascinating. But because of advances in remastering, the result is that we hear it all as if both men were still alive and creating all this right now.

6 thoughts on “1910: Stravinsky: Firebird Suite

  1. It does sound amazing, in both ways. It sounds amazing as a piece, and it sounds amazing as a recording too. It’s not perfect (the recording quality), but it’s still incredible.

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