One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger


Some items
to consider

Shostakovich 4, 11 Nelsons
Transparent Granite!

Nothing but Praise

BrucKner 4 Nelsons
the finest of recent years.

superb BD-A sound

This is a wonderful set

Telemann continues to amaze

A superb disc

Performances to cherish

An extraordinary disc.

rush out and buy this

I favour above all the others

Frank Martin - Exemplary accounts

Asrael Symphony
A major addition

Another Bacewicz winner

match any I’ve heard

An outstanding centenary collection

personable, tuneful, approachable

a very fine Brahms symphony cycle.

music that will be new to most people

telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded

hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


alternatively AmazonUK  



Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 1 (1865/1884) [25:18]
Fantasia on Serbian Themes, Op. 6 (1867/1887) [6:46]
Symphony No. 3 in C, Op. 32 (1874/1886) [33:51]
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Kees Bakels
rec. Dewan Filhamonik Petronas Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 2002
BIS BIS-CD-1477 [66:48] 


If you're in the mood for a Russian symphony - not a cosmopolitan score in the Tchaikovsky manner, but nationalist and brimming with gorgeous tunes and extrovert Russian spirit - the Rimsky-Korsakov Third will do nicely. There's mystery and magic here, which combines the glorious melodic gift of Scheherazade with the sense of fantasy of the Kitezh music. After a searching Moderato assai introduction, the opening Allegro has an airborne lift, and its clarinet and oboe themes relax and sing. A whimsical Scherzo in 5/8 time - Borodin liked this meter, too - dominated by delicate woodwind writing, sounds like a Russian Mendelssohn, but the tuttis have a stronger profile. The tender, lyrical Andante expands to encompass disturbed emotions before resolving, attacca, into a vigorous, energetic finale.

Kees Bakels leads a glowing performance, in which the nostalgic, folk-based themes are permitted to unfold and breathe naturally. As in so many recent recordings, the principal clarinetist walks away with the expressive honours - bringing an almost aching beauty to the first-movement recapitulation - but the oboe offers some poignant moments as well. The Malaysian Philharmonic strings don't produce the warm, lush sounds of, say, the LSO, but they play with good discipline and shape their lyrical themes sensitively.

The First Symphony ought to have the same appeal. There's plenty of vivid orchestral color, some "shaggy" chromatic progressions, and, in the scherzo, a fine rhythmic alertness. Yet the music doesn't grab you the same way. A shortage of memorable melodies is a problem here. For Rimsky, as for Beethoven, the sort of short, rhythmic motifs that lend themselves to symphonic development don't necessarily make the best tunes, no matter how brilliantly garbed. Bakels' stewardship, too, seems less effective in this piece. He makes the most of the score's dynamic contrasts, but he maintains the tempi rather rigidly. You'd think such an approach would help hold the score together, but it serves instead to underline the more conventional aspects of the writing while inhibiting expression. The first movement's delicious clarinet theme, for example, feels reined-in. I have not heard the old Boris Khaikin performance, available Stateside on a Melodiya/Angel LP, in many years, but I remember it as being more colorful, earthier and less constrained.

The Fantasia on Serbian Themes, too, betrays Bakels' lack of sympathy with the style. The melodies - apparently authentic Serbian themes, mostly supplied by Balakirev - register well enough, but in the coda the conductor screws up the intensity to a frenetic level, for a hasty, unsatisfying close. The Naxos performance (8.553858) under Igor Golovchin rambles a bit, but, as the timing of 8:19 (compared to Bakels's 6:46) might suggest, it's freer to make an effect.

Bis provides the customary audiophile-quality sound. Note the clean, luminous woodwind reproduction in the trio of the First Symphony's scherzo. Recommended for the Third Symphony.

Stephen Francis Vasta 



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.