Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Scheherazade [44.00] Russian Easter Festival Overture [15.00]    Joakim Svenheden (violin) London PO/Jose Serebrier rec 9-10 March 1999, Watford Colosseum REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-89CD [59:26]

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This is an unsurprising coupling of two of the most popular works in the orchestral literature. Their impact as display pieces is often stressed as if this quality militates against or cancels out their musical value. In fact the two qualities are perfectly complementary.

What is so attractive about these two works is the excellence and memorability of the musical ideas and the sense of fantasy which imbues every bar. Would that Serebrier would now turn to the similarly ecstatic and exotic (though even finer) Antar another 'Symphonic Suite' although finally dubbed 'Symphony No. 2'.

Jose Serebrier knows the LPO well having conducted them in his own meticulously prepared recoridng of Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4 back in the 1970s for RCA (now BMG). His own extensive notes recount his mission to cleanse the orchestral parts of Scheherazade from decades of conductors' accretions and elisions. He also gives his own overview of conductors' styles taking in names such as Reiner, Monteux, Ormandy, Ansermet, Bernstein, Beecham and a conductor with whom Serebrier worked as assistant in old age, Stokowski.

As a showcase Scheherazade is well served by RR's technical know-how and accomplishment although frankly the listener very soon loses all preoccupation with such matters as the music speaks freely and with lively command. The Colosseum seems a reverberant acoustic and must have taken some mastering. As it is bloom and space are not lacking yet detail is nicely preserved and communicated to the listener. The big moments are spectacularly caught as in the quick crescendo at the end of The Young Prince and the Princess. The helter-skelter piccolo solo at 6.53 in the Bronze Warrior finale is staggering; but then much of the playing here is possessed. The mixture of early Christian mysticism and pagan debauch that stalk the Russian Easter Festival Overture are conveyed with similar fervour. For all of Serebrier's concern for authenticity the performances have no trace of pedantry. Instead they flow with life and dramatic poetry.

Film music fans who may not otherwise know the work would do well to hear this disc for Scheherazade in particular is a work much quarried for inspiration when deadlines press and bank accounts gasp.

All in all a refreshing and surprising event for those who thought they knew their Rimsky.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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