In typical fashion, here is Naxos doggedly working
its way through a composer’s entire output come what may. In some
ways it made me feel nostalgic, as one of my first ever MusicWeb
reviews was of one of this series, and included the Sixth Symphony
No symphony here to give this issue substance, just a selection
of eminently approachable and sometimes downright fun pieces.
The principal material of the Triumphal March
of 1892 will, I almost guarantee, be instantly recognisable, for
here is ‘John Brown’s Body’. This tune makes an appearance because
the work was intended for the Chicago Exhibition with a full title
of, ‘Triumphal March on the Occasion of the World’s Columbian
Exposition in Chicago 1893’. Under Ziva’s baton the strings sound
richly emotional. A pity the brass can sound a bit brass-band-ish,
but the glittering scoring of much of the work more than compensates
for this. The idea of book-ending this release with two engaging
pieces of froth is most appealing.
The disc ends, then, with Chopiniana of
1892, a set of orchestrations of some of Chopin’s piano pieces.
One of the most famous, the A major Polonaise, opens the
set. Articulation here is crisp (but the tenuto at the
beginning of the second bar sounds strangely unnatural). The second
movement (F major Nocturne from Chopin’s Op. 12) really
does sound like something Besses-o’-the-Barn might revel in, although
the turbulent middle section is well realised. Actually, the highlight
is the third movement (Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50
No. 3), suave and seductive. The achievement of the final movement
(Tarantella in A flat, Op. 43) is to make Chopin sound
intensely Russian through and through. Well worth hearing for
the curiosity value (this suite later formed the basis of Les
The pieces in between deserve the occasional
airing, and it is nice that they make daylight here. The Serenade
No. 1, Op. 7 is very jolly, with decidedly Spanish influences
and even some passages which could easily have escaped from Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Scheherazade. The second Serenade contains much
delicacy and lyricism. The two Overtures on Greek Themes
(three themes each) again offer rewards in their own way. The
first seems once more influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov (this performance
is in danger of grinding to a halt at one point, though); the
second, dedicated to Balakirev, has a more concentrated atmosphere.
This performance of the latter exudes a certain belief in this
music, and in this case it needs it, for the ‘march’ around eleven
minutes in is, how can I put it, low on inspiration. The delightful,
flute-dominated scoring about three minutes later more than makes
up for it, however.
Dips in creative inspiration apart, this is a
very enjoyable disc. Completists will not be disappointed, and
neither will anyone wanting the evergreen Chopin orchestrations.
see also review
by Michael Cookson