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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade * (1888) (44:30)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Song of the Nightingale ? (1917) (22:17)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
* Recorded in Chicago February 8 1960. ◙ Recorded November 3 1956
BMG RCA RED SEAL SACD 82876 66377-2 [66:51]


Here is another collection of fabulous RCA Living Stereo recordings. Reiner’s 1960 Scheherazade recording sounds superb in its new SACD format. As I have remarked about other recordings in this series, each incarnation of this famous, acclaimed recording, through LP, digital, CD etc, reveals more and more detail. Now, with no evidence of any tape hiss (it is understood that no filtering was applied in the engineering of this SACD), the sonic splendour of this popular warhorse reaches right out at you. The finale builds up to a tremendously thrilling climax at "The Shipwreck". Balance, spread, dynamics are all brilliantly realised, the strings have a radiant sheen, the solo violin (Sidney Harth) representing the young queen whose storytelling skills prolong and finally save her life in the court of the cruel Sultan is seductively and elegantly played, while the brass, burnished, ring out heroically, and woodwinds sing gloriously.

The booklet has the very interesting original LP note by the recording’s producer, Richard Mohr, in which he describes the Scheherazade recording session. He notes the acoustic challenges of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and the ups and downs of the actual sessions, hour-by-hour, on February 8 1960. Mohr comments that "the final movement in this recording is a complete performance, without benefit of splicing, an orchestral achievement rarely equalled." Reiner’s reading is sumptuous, exciting and wonderfully sensuous.

There are, of course many, many alternative recordings of Sheherazade. Many more recent ones are spectacular in modern engineered sound (I especially treasured Kyril Kondrashin’s 1963 Philips recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the sweet solo violin of Herman Krebbers (the Concertgebouw’s leader) but for this reviewer this Reiner recording remains near the top of the list together with my own personal favourite, the venerable, celebrated Beecham recording (1957) with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (now available on the super budget HMV label in the UK)

It is astonishing to note that the Reiner recording of Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale was recorded as early as 1956, only three years after RCA’s first experimental "binaural" recordings. The fidelity is amazing, the spatial elements, the sound stage extraordinarily wide. Reiner delivers a feast of shimmering colours, a reading of exotic chinoiserie, finely delineating and contrasting the beauty of the real nightingale with the harsh coldness of the mechanical one, and evoking the colourful court of the Chinese Emperor.

Superb new SACD refurbishments of two more classic Reiner recordings. The clarity and presence of the sound is very impressive.

Ian Lace

 



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