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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite after "The Thousand and One Nights", Op. 35 (1888) [45:15]
Sadko, a musical picture Op.5 (1867) [10:49]
Fantasia on Serbian Themes Op.6 (1866) [6:56]
At the Tomb, Prelude to the Memory of M Belyaev Op.61 (1904) [4:18]
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow 1969 (Scheherazade) and 1965 (remainder)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00180 [67:18]


Fresh from Melodiya’s restoration of Svetlanov’s Kalinnikov [review 1 review 2]comes an all-Rimsky disc from the same source. When this Scheherazade appeared the catalogue was not short of recommendable candidates. Near the top of that list stood such as Kletzki, Reiner, Beecham, Stokowski and Monteux. But Svetlanov brought distinctive qualities of his own and as we’ve seen through the years this was a score to which he was asked to return often.

He always seems to have taken the opening broadly so the much later live LSO/BBC Legends performance was very much part of the continuum of his Scheherazade conducting and especially when it came to tempo relationships. Back on home ground we find him measured and watchful but when those climaxes come they are hammered home – even bludgeoned. The characteristically braying trumpets add their own beleaguered vehemence to the proceedings. He’s emphatic in the second movement, insistent on some stolid-sounding paragraphs but ones that soon open out. The trombone principal had a big, fat tone reminiscent of current jazz trombone player Gary Valente in its moose-toned sleaze. Neither he nor the trumpet principal made any attempt at tone blending in their sections and the results are, strictly speaking, in that respect chaotic. But that’s outweighed, indeed weirdly enhanced, by the charismatic passion and opulent theatricality of the playing, the rubato – always subtle, never functional – and the robust masculinity of approach. The solo violin adheres to the expressive theatricality of the performance – quite florid in places as well.

When this appeared on HMV ASD2520 it was priced at 43s. 9d. and coupled with the Oriental Dances and Chernomors March from Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla. Now it’s been sensibly coupled with a warmly sensitive Sadko and the equally early Fantasia on Serbian Themes. This has plenty of folkloric drive, especially convincing in the high winds, and some galvanizing high spirits. At the other spectrum stands the late 1904 At the Tomb, Prelude to the Memory of M Belyaev which is a study in noble resignation powered by sheer grandeur in the brass – here on good behaviour.

Svetlanov’s 1969 Scheherazade is clearly an historical object now, with getting on for forty years’s service. But in its brazen, sometimes indulgent and dramatic way it still has claims to be taken as seriously as those other august Scheherazades mentioned above.

Jonathan Woolf

Melodiya Catalogue



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