Telarc, 0587, 2003
label website

I am becoming increasingly impressed with each new issue from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi on Telarc. This, their third joint release, is a blockbuster in every way imaginable. True, the catalog is filled with many exceptional recordings of these dazzling ballet scores. You may question the need for yet another one. But this one's quite exceptional and, in my opinion, in the august company of legendary interpretations by Dorati and Ansermet. Telarc's recording team used the latest DSD technology to create a beautifully detailed, three-dimensional sonic soundstage that will sweep you away. There is no evidence of digital glare whatsoever and both ends of the frequency range are fully realized. The well-known Telarc bass drum is there in all its glory. The closing bass drum whacks of The Firebird are spellbinding, and this is merely the CD version! I can't imagine what the SACD release of this recording sounds like. It is easy to become emotionally engaged in a performance with recording quality such as this. Well done Telarc! Just as the Dorati and Ansermet recordings were considered sonic reference recordings of their days, the Telarc should be considered a sonic reference for today.

The Firebird is based on a Russian folk tale in which the feared ogre, Katschei the Immortal (I'm scared just by the name alone), is defeated by the Firebird. The orchestration is fantastic, dazzling and leaves one in awe of Stravinsky's inventiveness. Petrouchka is the tragic tale of a carnival puppet that comes to life only to fall hopelessly in love with a ballerina and later succumb to a most cruel death. Once criticized for its dissonance, this masterpiece is now one the most beloved compositions of the twentieth century. I suspect that this is a result of the multitude of folk melodies, waltzes and songs that populate this glorious score.

Järvi and company provide a bouncing yet taut reading superbly interpreted by all sections of the orchestra. Pianist Michael Chertock's wonderful playing brings the doomed puppet to riveting life. Are there other versions that drive a bit more forcefully yet? If so, I haven't heard them yet. Järvi does an exceptional job to illuminate the work's pain and anguish with almost eerie palpability.

The fill up piece, Scherzo a la Russe, is a composition originally intended to be part of a film score. The project fell through and Stravinsky later rewrote the work for symphonic orchestra. While not reaching the creative peaks of The Firebird and Petrouchka, there is still much to enjoy.

All in all, a most impressive release. Throughout all three pieces, orchestral composure is superb, especially with the winds and brass. While I detected a few somewhat hesitant passages in Järvi's two previous recordings with the CSO, I don't hear anything but airtight control here. For someone just starting to dip their ears in SACD, this release would make an excellent demonstration of the format. Unlike many others, this one utilized the DSD process right through the recording chain. On the other hand, the CD version clearly reveals just how much 16/44 technology has advanced in recent years. Even if you have multiple recordings of these pieces in your collection, this new Telarc is well worth obtaining.