CD Review

Russian Gold


© Chris Green, October 2019

Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or (suite)

Stravinsky: The Firebird (complete)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko
Onyx 4175 • 75' • (2018)


When I was a student I used to go many classical concerts held in the vast Victorian Town Hall in the city where I was studying and the visiting orchestra was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I do not think they had the "Royal" title then, but as probably the oldest professional orchestra in England, they deserved it. They were used to accompanying choral groups across the North of England. I would have described as a likeable, workmanlike band of musicians.

Now the orchestra is from the top-drawer - to use an English expression. Under their Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko it has been gathering wide praise of the programming and the quality of the playing. This new release from the small independent label, Onyx, proves the case for all departments are under the spotlight of the brilliant writing by Rimsky Korsakov.

His suite from Le Coq d'Or tells a story and one can follow that is based on a short story by Pushkin. The opera was considered by the Russian Czarist censor as hostile and the opera was deemed not to be performed. Rather than compromise, the composer set to arranging a suite from the work for concert performance and hence this suite which tells of the ailing Emperor who held hostage to fortune by the wily Queen of Shemakha. He is presented with a Golden Cockerel that will warn him of impending danger What he does not know that the gift is double-edged.

This is brilliant music on the level of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and one can hear how that inspiration was transmitted to one of his most gifted students, Igor Stravinsky. The companion work is the latter's The Firebird, a sure-fire "star" piece for an orchestra. Again, the orchestra impresses with the strings recorded in high definition sound in Liverpool's Royal Philharmonic Hall. A tip: to sample this disc, listen to the fourth movement of Le Coq d'Or where King Dodon, the Emperor meets the Queen, proposes marriage and ends - well. you have to follow the story-line.