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John J Puccio
Classical Candor, November 2013

Delos Records originally released this recording of the complete Firebird ballet with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony in 1986. Because it’s Schwarz and Delos, it means we get a typically well-controlled performance and an exceptionally clean recording. This time from Naxos, though, the disc comes at an even lower cost. Not a bad deal.

Stravinsky had a good thing going in The Firebird. It’s all very exotic, colorful, warmhearted, and exciting.

Maestro Schwarz approaches the score above all atmospherically. There are very few histrionics going on here but rather a measured, clear-cut reading, the dynamic scope telling the tale. The opening is so quiet, you’d think the music wasn’t even playing. Yet it’s all very evocative, leading through a magical introduction to the entrances of the Prince and the Firebird.

Still, when the principal characters enter the scene, they do so with appropriate mystery and excitement. The Seattle Symphony’s playing helps a lot here, too, sounding both refined and skillful. The “Entrance of the Enchanted Princesses” and their play with the golden apples seem especially well done, the music characterful, spirited, and enchanting.

One of the highlights of the score for me is the gentle “Round Dance” at its center, which Schwarz manages with elegance and grace. It’s one of the most beautiful melodies Stravinsky ever wrote, and the conductor’s delicacy with and respect for the music is most telling.

“Daybreak” marks the beginning of the ballet’s more energetic segments, and Schwarz is no less compelling in these lively passages than he is in the more-lyrical sections. By the time we reach the climactic “Infernal Dance,” we have to admire the conductor’s ability to keep all the diverse elements of the score moving forward at an engrossing clip.

Accompanying The Firebird we find Stravinsky’s Fireworks. It’s a proper companion piece because it’s the little work that so impressed Sergey Dyagilev that he encouraged Stravinsky to write The Firebird for his Ballet russes…it has enough brilliance and intensity to make a lasting impression. Schwarz plays it with vitality and animation.

Noted recording engineer John Eargle made the album at the Seattle Center Opera House, Seattle, Washington in 1986 (Firebird) and 1988 (Fireworks). Much of the sound is subtle, fitting for the occasion, as The Firebird is mostly lovely, poetic music that needs all the subtlety an engineering team can afford it. There is a good midrange transparency involved, a wide dynamic range, a robust bass, plenty of strong impact when necessary, and a pleasantly ambient acoustic. Every note sounds clearly defined, yet with a natural bloom around it that reminds us of the actual environment of the concert hall. It makes for a most lifelike presentation, the orchestra never too wide, too narrow, or too one-dimensional. Indeed, there is plenty of depth to the orchestral field, further heightening our sense of reality. © 2013 Classical Candor Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, January 2013

As often happens in music, it takes a large orchestra with all the resources and the individual virtuosity of the Seattle Symphony to realize both the barely audible, almost perceived rather than audible moments in the nocturnal garden and the stunning music connected with Kastchei’s Dance, his death, and the General Rejoicing that follows it. Gerard Schwarz reveals himself as both a master of nuance and a conductor who is capable of realizing the broader canvas at the same time. And producer Joanna Nickrenz and engineer John Eargle lend excellent support in the sound booth.

As an encore, we have the short symphonic sketch Fireworks. The four-minute dazzler lives up to its name in terms of impressionistic color and excitement. © 2013 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

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