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?