|Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky Korsakov|| |
Scheherazade, Op. 35
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Although he was counted amongst Mily Balakirev’s ‘Mighty Handful’ (which dedicated itself to pursuing a more purely Russian art music, as opposed to the Austro-German musical dominance of the era), both works on this recording show how Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was able to draw influences from beyond Russia into his own unique compositional approach: the scenes from his opera The Invisible City of Kitezh take on a dramatic, Wagnerian influence, whilst Sheherazade is suffused with orientalism as it conjures images from the Thousand and One Nights.
The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov bring their natural insight with this repertoire to the fore in these live performances, continuing their series of acclaimed releases with Signum.
Once upon a time – this is a fairy story, after all – there was a symphonic suite called Scheherazade which formed a basic showpiece in the repertory of every international orchestra. They all recorded it and they all performed it. Nowadays it seems to have fallen on hard times, in the concert hall at least, but it still makes a very respectable showing on disc – there are 137 versions currently listed on Archiv – and it still remains a real technical tour de force for orchestras around the world. The St Petersburg players have this music saturated into the very marrow of their bones, and this performance clearly demonstrates that fact. Time and time again there are felicities of phrasing and expression which make listeners prick up their ears. Temirkanov indulges himself with rubato in every phrase that will stand it – to often beautiful effect. The players are with him to a man. At the same time he knows precisely when to get out of the way and let the individual instrumentalists have their heads. The internal balances within the orchestra are perfect with a natural instinct that can only come from intimate acquaintance with every facet of the work. The recorded balance, set slightly back in a resonant hall, is natural without any hint of spotlighting.
In fact one could have done with a marginal amount of spotlighting from the microphone on the solo violin. Its figurations sometimes disappear beneath the accompaniment in a manner which would be expected in the concert hall – where the physical presence of the soloist would lend him or her prominence – but which needs slight assistance in a purely audio production. In fact the violin soloist is stinted even more in the presentation, which nowhere discloses his or her identity: grossly unfair given this beautifully expressive performance. It is not until the end of the last movement, when audience applause suddenly erupts, that one is even aware that this is a recording of a concert performance. This makes the sheer technical perfection throughout all the more admirable.
Scheherazade is preceded by another Rimsky-Korsakov showpiece in the shape of three movements from his opera The invisible city of Kitezh. You will note the ominous phrase “three movements”. For some totally inexplicable reason the fourth movement of the orchestral suite is missing here. The result is that the music tails away unconvincingly at the end of a rousing performance of the Battle of Kershenets movement with its galloping Tartar horsemen. This then leads, with rather a short pause, straight into the opening of Scheherazade. This is even more regrettable because what we do have here is superbly well done, with the opening Paean to the Wilderness phrased with real affection and feeling. This quite transforms this already very beautiful music. What on earth happened to the last movement? There would have been plenty of room for it on the disc.
So only modified rapture, then – but nonetheless this Scheherazade is absolutely marvellous, one of the best available. If you think you have heard the score so often that it has become jaded, this is a recording to make you think again. Temirkanov holds the symphonic form together – with the theme of the Sultan transforming into that of Sinbad – with a real appreciation of the sheer technical expertise that Rimsky-Korsakov brought to this marvellous score.
Musicweb International, Paul Corfield Godfrey
The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov, presents sterling performances of excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Invisible City of Kitezh and Sheherazade. Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s days as one of Mily Balakirev’s ‘Mighty Handful’ (Credo: a more purely Russian art music, as opposed to the Austro-German orthodoxy), resulted in the ebullient, vivid pieces found on this recording with the composer utilising influences from both Russia and other countries. The suite from his opera The Invisible City of Kitezh is evocatively realised, as is its stablemate Sheherazade (thought the latter has had more idiomatic readings) The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov deliver the scores with panache. Classical CD Review, Barry Forshaw