Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade (1994)

Ernest Ansermet conducting L'Orchestra De La Suisse Romande.

This is a budget-priced compilation of recordings from the late '50s and early '60s, but the digital transfers really aren't too bad, not much tape hiss at all. The interpretations are average and don't take any chances, so you get a fairly safe introduction to some of the composer's work. What I find interesting about these early recordings is that there is absolutely no attempt to go back, re-record, and splice in a cleaner performance. In other words, this isn't the most technically accurate performance you can find. Judging from the occasional errors in playing, this is a live recording with no overdubs. Although I already owned at least one other recording of Scheherazade, I purchased this set for the Russian Easter Festival Overture and discovered some of the Rimsky-Korsakov's lesser-known compositions. It's a lengthy double disc set, clocking in at 140 minutes.

Scheherazade (1888) is perhaps Rimsky-Korsakov's most well-known symphonic suites. While it gets a little schmaltzy at times, this piece illustrates the Russians' fascination with the Orient/The Arabian Nights in the 19th century. Listening to this piece, you realize how much 20th century movie soundtrack composer John Williams owes to Rimsky-Korsakov, particularly in terms of orchestration.

Overture to the opera May Night (1879) is long for an overture (8+ minutes), but is a lively piece that makes use of Ukrainian folk music.

A three movement orchestral suite taken from the opera The Tale Of Tsar Saltan (1900) contains 2 movements that are full of fanfares and typical Rimisky-Korsakov melodies, but the middle movement, depicting two characters adrift on the sea, contains no melodies, but just rolling, beautiful, lush harmonies. Also included is a relaxed version of The Flight Of The Bumblebee (also from The Tale Of Tsar Saltan, but not included in the suite). This is slower version is probably how the composer intended it to be performed, but the piece has taken a life of its own, becoming a virtuosic showcase of technical ability. I like this slower version. It's a nice change of pace.

The Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888) is a wonderful adaptation of two Russian hymns. Lots of good brass parts in this one.

Next is a multi-movement orchestral suite taken from the opera Christmas Eve (1895). Parts of this piece sound like they were lifted from Scheherazade, but the rest is very light and playful until the final section, "Procession to Midnight Mass and Carols," which is stately and uses the same hymn that Tchaikovsky uses in the 1812 Overture.

Rimsky-Korsakov adaptation of the Russian folk tune Dubinushka (1905) is simply they same melody repeated over and over by different sections. It's an exercise in orchestration, not thematic development.

Subtitled "A Musical Picture," Sadko (1867) is a tone poem that musically depicts the narrative of a Russian folk hero. I'm not a fan of tone poems in general and this one does little to change that opinion.

The final piece is a suite from the opera The Snow Maiden (1903). Meh.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Russian Easter Festival Overture was one of the first orchestral pieces I ever heard on CD, even though I didn't purchase my own copy of the work until many years later.

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