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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sheherazade – symphonic suite op. 35 (1888) [44:08]
The Legend of Tsar Saltan – three musical pictures (1900) [18:44]
USSR State Academic Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra (op. 35), The Great Symphony Orchestra of the Radio-Information Committee (op.57)/Nikolai Golovanov
rec. Moscow, 1950; 1952.
Experience Classicsonline

The reputation of the Russian conductor Nikolai Golovanov (1891-1953) has been fitfully revived over the last ten years. Fascination with the vivid colours and characterisation that were his trademark has been matched in some quarters with discomfort or even revulsion about his extremes of speed and dynamic. His presence gained a real fillip from inclusion in the EMI Classics Great Conductors of the Century series but the Boheme label discs are well worth tracking down alongside esoterica on the Multisonic, Arlecchino and Arioso labels.
This recording of Sheherazade is virile, thunderous, majestically swelling and stompingly accented. The effect is compromised only by the ‘tizz’ of distortion on the intense treble. Boheme were able to do so much more to reclaim the sound on their Golovanov-Scriabin series. There are many memorable moments. These include the emphatic stutter and stagger of the pizzicato in Lento (tr. 2, 4:52 and 7:49) and the agogic caress of the Andantino (tr. 3, 7:55). The performance is enhanced by David Oistrakh’s sultry-skittish inveigling temptress. The original engineers had no hesitation in homing in closely on the Oistrakh front desk for his seductions and enchantments.
The three pictures from Tsar Saltan include the introductions to the first two scenes of the opera and the introduction to the last picture (Three Miracles). The first and last of these portraits have the crashing splendour of The Golden Cockerel, some of Prokofiev’s satire and pre-hints of his pupil Rimsky’s pupil Respighi’s The Birds. The second is obsidian-dark and magical with crystalline darts of sound punctuating a grey and catastrophe-laden swell typical of Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead. The sound is more forward and vigorous than in the Sheherazade and there is no treble distortion.
I must declare an interest as the author of the liner-notes for this issue.
Historically fascinating then and de rigueur for fans of Oistrakh, Golovanov and the far from faceless orchestral traditions of the USSR. They are beginning to fade into the realms of audio-archaeology; more’s the pity.
Rob Barnett


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