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Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
CD 1 [75:04]
Antar – Symphonic Suite, Op. 9 [30:44]
May Night – Overture [8:04] The Tale of Tsar Saltan – Suite, Op. 57 [20:27] (The Tsar’s Departure and Farewell; The Tsarina and her son afloat in the cask; The Three Wonders; The Flight of the Bumblebee - The Tale of Tsar Saltan)
Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 [15:16]
CD 2 [66:42]
Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36 [14:40]
Christmas Eve – Suite [23:42]
Dubinushka, Op. 62 [4:12]
Sadko – A Musical Picture, Op. 5 [10:51]
The Snow Maiden – Suite (Introduction; Danses des Oiseaux; Cortège; Danses des Bouffons) [12:36]
Motet de Genève/Jacques Horneffer (Snow Maiden)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, October 1952 (Capriccio Espagnol, mono); June 1954 (Antar); November 1956 (May Night, Tale of Tsar Saltan, Russian Easter Festival Overture); April 1957 (Flight of the Bumblebee, Sadko); May 1957 (Christmas Eve, Dubinushka); November 1957 (Snow Maiden). ADD.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0827 [75:04 + 66:42]
 
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sheherazade Op. 35 [41:40]
Le Coq d’Or – Suite (King Dodon in his Palace 9:15; King Dodon on the Battlefield 4:29; King Dodon with Queen Shemakha 6:41; Marriage Feast and Lamentable End of King Dodon 6:32)
Pierre Nerini (violin)
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Ernest Ansermet 1-4
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France, September 1954 (Sheherazade); Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, October 1952 (Le Coq d’Or, mono). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0081 [68:58]
Experience Classicsonline



 

Heard beside recordings by Golovanov (Boheme, 1950s original) and Svetlanov this Ansermet Sheherazade is softly lit and softly focused. If you find the Soviets just a shade too relentless and neon then this might be for you. It's undoubtedly effective and Ansermet even coaxes a nice bray from the Paris Conservatoire brass or perhaps it was endemic in those days. Nerini is a very neat soloist but does not have the extraordinary seductive and scudding glamour of Oistrakh for Golovanov. The recording from 1954 is very good and way better than the ancient sounding Golovanov. Even so its steely core is beginning to show through. For a modern recording try Reference Recordings’ superb version with the gifted Jose Serebrier.

The recording of the Coq d'Or suite is even older and this shows in the exposed trumpet solo that opens this fairy tale piece with its occasional reminiscences/predictions of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto. The woodwind playing in the Battlefield movement bristles with character; indeed this is a classic version in which Ansermet can be heard with his usual orchestra the Suisse Romande. A fine interpretation and much more treasurable than this Sheherazade.  In the finale and elsewhere one can see where the Stravinsky of The Firebird and the Symphony in E flat found their influences.

The two CD set is packed tight with the rest of Ansermet's Rimsky legacy. His Antar is magnificently recorded as the tolling drumbeat in the first movement testifies - deeply impressive. On the other hand, as an interpretation, while very fine in its own right it is up against Svetlanov and the USSRSO who make the whole score sing and sway more seductively. Listen for example to the way Svetlanov handles the humming tension of the second movement and the exuberant middle eastern fair of the third. Ansermet is very good but not a match for the volcanic Russian. There's a charming yet understated May Night overture to match up with a rather engaging Tsar Saltan suite the march of which must surely have formed a model for Prokofiev's march in The Love of Three Oranges.    Also from 1958 comes the splendidly balanced Flight of the Bumble Bee. The Capriccio Espagnol is nice to have but shows its age (1952) in stridency. Also the orchestra's skills cannot match those in the first league. In the Capriccio I think particularly of the finer recording by Ormandy and the Philadelphia.

On the second CD is the Russian Easter Festival Overture but despite being most lovingly recorded Ansermet favours an overly steady approach the etiolated results of which have great charm but little bite. The Christmas Eve suite is magically done with some hushed and tense playing captured upfront in classically virile sound from Decca. A pity that the whole suite is presented in a single track. The Dubinushka is extremely nicely done: folk-cheery with some notably pointed trumpet work. It's an artefact of those same revolutionary times when Rimsky, at the cost of his job, sided with the students of the St Petersburg Conservatoire at the time of the ill-fated 1905 revolution.   Sadko is tempestuous and is superbly done here with - once again - recording to match. Ansermet provides a buzzing performance replete with slavonic melancholy and fairytale enchantment. Note the beguilingly lissom cantabile at 3.49 onwards. The musical picture is no longer than a concert overture and rises to a wild dance worthy of the Polovtsi though on this occasion sub-oceanic. The Snow Maiden suite is in four movements - all in a single track.  With its foreshadowing of Bax's Garden of Fand this is most magically done and the Danse des Oiseaux is finely picked out by a slightly distanced Motet de Genève choir who achieve a nicely authentic Russian accent recalling the celebratory sections of Rachmaninov's The Bells. The suite ends with the sparkling Danses des Bouffons with a dervish Tchaikovskian whirl to it.

Lower key Rimsky-Korsakov which may well suit you. It's often very nicely recorded.

 

Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 


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