> RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherezade Mehta [JPo]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sheherazade - Symphonic Suite for Orchestra Op.35 (1888) [46:05]
Sydney Harth, solo violin
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Capriccio Espagnol Op.34 (1887) [16:07]
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Recorded London, 1975, 1980
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 686-2 [62:28] Superbudget


These performances are re-issues of LPs dating from 1975 and 1980, and are part of a projected review of Zubin Mehta's Decca recordings, entitled "Zubin Mehta - The Decca Years". This disc is an Australian Universal issue and can be purchased via www.buywell.com.

Both items on this disc are well known as orchestral showpieces, and so they are presented. The sound is of good 1970-80s quality, and has been well re-mastered by the Universal engineers. I have not heard the original LPs, but cannot imagine they were much different in their day, and were considered approaching demonstration standard. The coupling is a justly popular and sensible one, and the booklet, for super-budget standards, is quite reasonable with some background information on the works. The only problem here is that both works are very well-known and much recorded

Sheherazade is given a very sumptuous, forward sound which almost seems to be making the utmost effort to capture the voluptuousness of the score; in fact in doing so, the ambience and natural surround is lost, and I suspect the engineers have had some say in some of the quieter passages by lessening the volume (particularly in the closing of the Story of the Kalendar Prince. Certainly, I had to exercise a bass cut to obtain a reasonable balance, and even then at times the brass, and others the woodwind, were more prominent than one would have expected. I found that the issues used for comparison (LPO/Haitink; RPO/Beecham) gave a much better all round satisfaction with clear cut solos and well recorded orchestral timbre. However at super-budget price, one would not quibble too much, if it were not for the performance. The LAPO with all respects, cannot really compete with the RPO, LPO, BPO (Karajan) or Concertgebouw (Kondrashin) in this music, and when Mehta, as he does, pulls the music around so much, some raggedness and roughness in the playing emerges. Mehta takes speeds at the extremes of those indicated and in comparison with other interpreters is very wayward. To give but two instances, in the Young Prince and the Young Princess Mehta takes 12:04 minutes, compared with Beecham at 10:43 (the next slowest) and Kondrashin at 9:36 (the fastest). Mehta's performance drags dreadfully, Beecham's is beautifully romantic. In the final movement, The Festival at Baghdad, Mehta takes 12:02 minutes, in comparison to Karajan's 12:57, and as a result sounds rushed and untidy. Sydney Harth (presumably the leader of the LAPO) does his best, but is never given enough time to settle into the seductiveness which should be typical of the story-teller. There are some lush moments, particularly with the 'cellos at the opening of the third movement, but these are lingered upon in such a way as to make them over-sugared.

In the Capriccio Espagnol, the Israel Philharmonic are a notch or two above the LAPO in technique, and the Decca team have given them a much more natural balance and sound. From thereon, I am afraid the previous doubts about the performance and timings re-surface. The marvellous horn quartet in the second section is positively painful, it is so slow, and the finale is so fast you can almost hear the orchestra panting at the end. Despite this belated catch-up, Mehta takes 16:07 minutes, whereas Maazel with the BPO takes only 13:28, but never sounds in the slightest rushed, and his performance simply sizzles with energy, something Mehta does not exhibit at all.

In conclusion, a disappointment, and even at super-budget price, I would not contemplate a purchase. Beecham is now at mid-price, and Karajan with Sheherazade and Maazel with Capriccio Espagnol are available with a lot of other excellent Rimsky-Korsakov music on an admirable double-disc Panorama issue. Kondrashin has rather dated sound now, but again is available at mid-price, but Haitink, alas, is no longer issued - may we hope for this omission to be rectified ere long?

John Portwood




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