This is a useful set and allowing for one or two lapses is a captivating survey of this forward-looking doyen among Russian composers.
Bakels in Sheherazade
does not stint on stabbing attack though it sometimes seems to lighten the drama rather than accentuate it. His endearing contouring of The Young Prince and Princess
is wonderfully effective and his confiding way with the solos is poetic enough. However if you were after the outrageous colour and drama of the Soviet classics you need to look elsewhere. Bakels' approach may well suit you very well if you never quite acclimatised to braying Russian brass and lurid Bolshoi technicolour. Markus Gundermann is the voice of Sheherazade and he holds the attention with his fined phrasing. You can hear him at his best in track 2 and also pick up on some truly entrancing bassoon playing. Bakels' Antar
has its charms but some of the phrasing is so tautly wound that its poetic charge goes for little. This is certainly not my favourite version of this imaginative and melodically gracious piece. Do try Svetlanov on the Svet and Hyperion labels for a contrast.
If the first disc is overarched by the exotic-oriental ideal the second starts with the hyper-idealised Iberian image of Capriccio Espagnol
. This is gloriously done - not a single miscalculation. The ringing and singing violins put not a foot wrong. The single movement Piano Concerto also emerges delightfully and ends with a cavalier flourish. The Tsar Saltan
suite with its fanfares and fantasy looks forward to Le Coq d'Or
and to Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges
. Interesting that the collection steers clear of Le Coq d'Or
. After these satirical and fanciful pictures comes Sadko
- a completely serious and vivid sea-picture with one of those buoyant winged melodies for which Rimsky is famed (7:12). The Capriccio Espagnol
of 1887 is often seen in harness with the Russian Easter Festival Overture
which ends disc 2. As with the Capriccio
this is another very pleasing and exciting interpretation - nicely recorded.
Disc 3 is packed tight at almost 83 minutes playing time. After a dashing Tsar's Bride
overture - I would never have guessed 1898 as its date - we get the rather lovely Pan Voyevoda
suite with its operatic source fixed on a hero pianist and with Chopin never that far distant. The suite often has the feel of one of those nationalist dance sets from Nutcracker
. The Christmas Eve
suite runs the gamut from glistening mysteries similar to Bax's tone poem of the same name to the chiming and tinkling of the Csardas
and Rain of Shooting Stars
. After the pleasing Overture on Russian Themes
comes the suite from The Snow Maiden
with its mirliton evocation in Dance of the Birds
This bargain price set is rounded out with Rimsky's other two symphonies. Alert playing lifts the First Symphony from the dutiful. The Fantasia on Serbian Themes
is lovingly done and is well worth discovering if you have not yet done so. Lovely flute playing and dour brass are prominent. The sturdy Third Symphony is interesting and a little like Glazunov - listen to the scherzo. However this is not vintage Rimsky. Bakels makes the symphony skip but it's no Antar
The whole set is well recorded and you could do a great deal worse than pick up this box. There is better to be had if you can put up with 1960s and 1970s analogue especially in the case of Antar
for which Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov are good alternatives if you can track them down.
Andrew Huth's 2007 notes are a sure-footed guide through these often ear-tickling and sometimes seductive works.
Reviews of the separate CDs:
CD 1 Don
CD 2 Paul
CD 3 Terry
CD 4 Steve