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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade Op.35 (1888) [44.23]
Russian Easter Festival Overture Op.36 (1888) [14.17]+
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski +
Recorded EMI Studios, London, February-March 1975 (Scheherazade) and Medinah Temple, Chicago, February 1968 (Overture)
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 65843 2 [58.40]

 

 

 

 

I’m going to repeat myself; you can never have too many Stokowski-Scheherazades. See my review of the Cala release of the 1964 recording for some specifics of that one, which is now in direct competition with the historic 1934 Philadelphia (for historic specialists and completists a thoroughly mandatory purchase, not least for Alexander Hilsberg’s violin solos) and the 1951 Philharmonia which is on Testament (I’m not sure if the 1927 early electric is currently available).

The issue of contention in the 1964 LSO traversal was the use of Phase 4 which resulted in the well-known gigantism and acoustic spotlighting of individual instruments. No such quirks afflict this later reading, which was overseen by Christopher Parker and Anthony Salvatore.

Eric Gruenberg was once more in the leader’s chair, this time of the RPO. His playing is as seductively sweet as one could wish. It’s a moot point as to whether one prefers his earlier self or the more mature musician. I happen to think it’s a close run thing but I’d opt for 1975. Stokowski was nearing the end of his long life and some stories have emerged of distressing recording sessions in which he lacked concentration. Here he is very much on home territory and seems on commanding, if sometimes idiosyncratic form. He builds crescendos in the opening movement, pushes tempi along and gives rein to the fulsome violin and cello solos; the clarinet principal is also fine here; one should also note in passing the delicacy and expressive tact of Gruenberg’s diminuendi. One curious feature of the disc is the way in which the first movement segues straight into the second without a pause.

Overall his first movement is brisk, certainly brisker than in 1934 and 1964 for instance; not quite as quick as Reiner but quick. In The Story of the Kalendar Prince one feels that one or two of the metrical adjustments seem over-calculated and not quite natural; certainly there’s a passage for the strings that feels altogether too unspontaneous, though it’s good that he felt the confidence to tighten the tempi as against the 1964 recording once again – not by much but just enough. Affectionate and warm, if occasionally italicised and rather too full of little nudges of the line, The Young Prince and the Young Princess might be the only movement where one could feel ambivalent, rather than merely doubtful. But given these Stokowskisms one can still bask in the sheer glamorous headiness of the playing, as one can in the finale with its puncturing trumpet and driving percussion and, once more, Gruenberg’s evocative oratory to see us home.

Cala had a concert Marche Slave as an encore; here we have a rip-roaring 1968 Chicago recorded Russian Easter Festival Overture – a lot broader than his 1942 NBC recording by the way but still full of subtle orchestral balance and equally of power. The recordings sound vivid and atmospheric. In previous releases there were hints of overload blasting in the final movement of Scheherazade, which could lead to some distortion but I didn’t notice any here.

 

Jonathan Woolf

 




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