The market for licensing back catalogue might well
repay research. How is it done? Do companies such as ASV, Edel, Chandos
and the rest market their wares to people like Brilliant and Regis?
Does it rest on personal contact, investigation and knowledge, phone
calls and faxes? In the face of the Dutch-based Brilliant Classics it
hardly matters as much of their licensed catalogue represents the sort
of value for money we could hardly have dreamt about in the 1960s and
1970s. People talk about ‘social inclusion’ but in the classical recordings
field Brilliant, Regis, Naxos, Royal Classics are actually doing something
about it. People starting out to develop an interest in classical music
but with tight budgets are very well served. Long may that continue.
At Brilliant's prices both they and seasoned collectors and enthusiasts
(not necessarily the same thing) can afford to take a gamble on their
sets. This site has, I am pleased to say, taken a special interest in
the bargain price field and we try to give a steer towards the best
buys or at least to describe so that you can decide what would suit
All the music on these four CDs comes from ASV a company
with a rather reticent advertising profile in contrast to their delightfully
garish livery. Brilliant do cut the odd corner but that is no harm if
your focus is on the music. However let's get the packaging gripes out
of the way. The four CDs come in individual jewel cases in a very light
slipcase - all shrink-wrapped. I prefer Brilliant's superb wallet design
which always looks good and which takes up the least space on the groaning
shelves. Each CD cover picture (19th century harem-scene oil paintings)
is of a piece with the slipcase design. Notes are by Dr David Doughty
who did the same service for the rightly-fêted Shostakovich set
from Brilliant. There are a few typos. I noticed quite a clutch of them
in the notes for the second disc. Decent discographical information
is given on the back of each CD case although you do not get to see
this until you have peeled off the shrink-wrap around the slipcase and
extracted each jewel case.
Loris Tjeknavorian is an exciting composer-conductor.
He seems first to have been picked up by RCA (remember his Khachaturian
ballets and complete Borodin from LP days). Unicorn also carried recordings
of his own music including the exotic ballet Simorgh. The Lama
LP label recorded his two symphonies. I am not sure whether he was recorded
more extensively in Armenia (and I would like to know) but his
strongest presence came with the cycle of Russian music with his own
orchestra, the Armenian Phil, recorded in Yerevan. Brian Culverhouse
made several pilgrimages to the Aram Khachaturian Hall and returned
with brilliantly coloured and recorded, virile and imaginative performances
every time. The Khachaturian series - especially the derided symphonies
This is not Tjeknavorian's first Sheherazade.
That was made with the LSO and issued on the super hi-fi Chalfont label
(also reissued by ASV at bargain price at one time). The present Sheherazade
is a pleasurable listen but is not as rhythmically pointed or as gripping
as the best (Svetlanov, Stokowski, Beecham, Ormandy, Serebrier). The
Festival of Baghdad - The Sea movement is much better in this respect
- listen to the cracking pace at 06.55 in tr. 4, the raw blare of the
horns and the aggressive bass drum thud. High points include solo work
that oozes and shines with character. The field for recorded Sheherazades
is overcrowded (yet when did you last see it in a concert programme?)
and in a less thronged catalogue this would have scored much higher.
I knew Sadko first as a Melodiya-recorded opera
in one of those sturdy battered LP boxes you could find at Colletts
on Charing Cross Road. Later it was one of the works on David Lloyd-Jones’
Philips Universo LPO anthology. There it shared space with the Borodin-Glazunov
Third Symphony and the original version of Night on the Bare Mountain.
It is a rhapsodic fantasy built from concepts in Rimsky's supernatural
oceanic opera. The inspiration is a notch or three down from the Russian Easter
Festival but it certainly deserves a place alongside the better
Liszt tone poems and Von Bülow's Nirvana. The recording
makes the orchestral sound rather glaring at forte and above.
The Song of India (again from the opera Sadko) is crushingly
seductive piece. Thanks to David Doughty for reminding us that the opera
was written in 1896 and comprised six tableaux. Sadko is the name of
the hero. The Song of India is one of the songs sung to Sadko
to tempt him to go to various exotic locales (an early sort of travel
agent’s sales pitch). The other 'sales' songs are for Venice and the
Also from those Yerevan sessions comes a whole disc
of suites from the Rimsky operas. The Golden Cockerel is a work
of the 20th century (1907 to be precise). The composer never heard the
piece. The suite is full of colourful allusions and the linkage with
Stravinsky's Firebird and Nightingale as well as with
the satirical operas of Prokofiev (principally The Love of Three
Oranges) is patent. Those strident trumpets right at the start set
the pace and atmosphere and declare the work one of Rimsky's prime inspirations.
The Queen Semakha movement ripples and shivers with melodic magic
and if you like Ippolitov-Ivanov's Procession of the Sardar and
Borodin's Prince Igor you will appreciate this music. The old
Ormandy recording of the suite (now on Sony Essential Classics) is still
a strong contender but this presents a much brighter and clearer recording
though the Armenians lack the sleek Philadelphian tone. Very enjoyable.
The tripartite Saltan suite (1900) is cheerful and vaingloriously
racy. In the movement depicting The Tsarina in a barrel at sea he
returns to the glittering realms of Sadko. The flighty Bumble-Bee
is painted with brilliance and pace. In the Christmas Eve Suite
one can hear where the young Bax derived much of his inspiration for
the earliest tone poems and for Spring Fire - just listen to
1.23 in tr. 9 and the start of the Games and Dances movement
(tr.10). The opera has the same plot-line as Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki.
The other two discs are built around Rimsky's three
symphonies with Fairy-Tale and Overture on Russian Themes
filling out the disc with the Third Symphony. The orchestra is the
LSO except in the case of the Overture where the Philharmonia do the
honours. The conductor is Yondani Butt. The Overture is not well known.
In fact I am fairly sure I had not heard it before. It is a divertissement
on folk-like themes but is not the equal of Mily Balakirev's similar
titled overture. Fairy-Tale (Skazka in the original) might
easily apply as a description to any of the non-Symphonic works. The
Third Symphony is smoothly and unexceptionably structured. A subtle
unassertive Brahmsian song plays like limelight through the first movement.
The Glazunovian chatter of the second movement is followed by an andante
which uses an accented woodwind figure later to be developed as the
Dodon fanfare for The Golden Cockerel music. Yondani Butt,
time after time, gives this music restless life and if he can be breathless
(as in the finale with its Tchaikovskian sighs) he cannot be accused
of flaccidity or inducing boredom.
The overture to The Tsar's Bride (1899) is well
worth getting to know. Though it ends on submissive calls from the woodwind
its earlier episodes are full of tension and tragedy; a Russian echo
of other concert overtures: Schumann's Julius Caesar and Mendelssohn's
Ruy Blas. The Serbian Fantasia (only a minute longer than
the overture) is an earlyish work from a couple of years after the First
Symphony. It lacks the concentration of the great works though the mannerisms
and hallmarks are all there.
The First Symphony predates Tchaikovsky's First by
a couple of years. It has the authentic Russian nationalist character
and while it flirts with quite a few Schumann-like gestures it is
not shackled to Germanic manners unlike the symphonies of Anton Rubinstein.
The finale had me thinking of a much finer work, Parry's First Symphony
(once fierily recorded by the English SO conducted by William Boughton
on a long-gone nimbus CD). This is once again given a zestful spin by
Butt and the Philharmonia. It really blazes in the last five minutes.
The real discovery comes with a work I encountered
more than three decades ago from an old EMI-Melodiya LP (Moscow Radio
SO/Rozhdestvensky): the Antar Symphony. Dr Doughty reminds us
that it is more of a ‘Symphonic Suite’ than a ‘Symphony’. I am not sure
how important that is. If we ignore Sheherazade it is the freshest,
most brazenly imaginative, most violent and sensual of all the works
in this set. The recording really does it justice being lively and sounding
front to back deep as well as with a wide but not synthetic soundstage.
The brass ‘barks’ at 4.10 illustrate what I mean (tr 7). The woodwind
are highlighted to some degree but not quite so much as in the Melodiya
recording. Where Rozhdestvensky wins over Butt is in affection. Butt
shades out degrees of ecstatic absorption reflected in his phrasing
and his sense of hurry. While the Russians relish exotic beauty Butt
seems to be saying ‘OK that's enough of that - time to move on’. Butt
fares much better in the third movement allegro.
If Brilliant Classics are looking for further licensing
concepts then let me recommend them to approach Unicorn for the Fenby
Delius and Panufnik series, ASV for Tjeknavorian's Khachaturian orchestral
cycle (with the film music please!) and now that Chandos are
on the cusp of a new Bax symphony series why not approach them for permission
to issue the Bryden Thomson cycle at super-bargain level? Brilliant's
next instalment is a box of Weber orchestral music: symphonies, overtures
and concertante works.
This Rimsky box is inexpensive, generous and covers
unusual territory. If we ignore The Flight of the Bumble-Bee the
only really famous work here is the Sheherazade. If you are interested
only in the symphonies then try the USSRSO/Evgeny Svetlanov set on a
BMG-Melodiya Twofer (74321 40065 2: 76:18+74:41). Neeme Järvi on
DG (1988), Dmitri Kitaenko on Chandos (1990) and Evgeny Svetlanov on
Hyperion (1990) should also be worth auditioning. Nothing here is less
than good from a recording and interpretative viewpoint so I confidently
recommend this set.