Charles Dutoit is an old-fashioned sort of conductor, in a good
way I mean; he's somebody who pays attention to details and
makes sure he gets the most from his musicians. And unlike some
his younger colleagues, he is not a conductor who strives for
excitement at the expense of every other musical virtue. He
can usually deliver the excitement as well, but when the energy
drops, as it occasionally does on this disc, we are left admiring
the high quality of the orchestral playing but in something
of a musical vacuum.
The first movement suffers this the most. All the notes are
there, and it isn't particularly slow. But there is a lack of
drive in many of the passages. All of the abrupt tempo changes
are perfectly executed, but there is rarely much enthusiasm
for the follow-on section when it has been established. The
second movement too could do with a bit more oomph. Admittedly,
Rimsky-Korsakov doesn't really write this as a high energy scherzo,
but it could still do with a little more zest than here.
That apart, this is a good recording. The energy certainly picks
up in the finale, and I've no complaints at all about the Russian
Easter Festival Overture. The RPO play well, although they
are not quite managing the same top standards as other London
orchestras at the moment. The string sound is a little coarse,
and the tuning of the brass often leaves much to be desired.
On the other hand, the woodwind section puts in an excellent
performance, with real character to their various solos and
I sense a tension between the violin soloist Clio Gould and
Dutoit. All the violin solos are interpreted very freely, with
lashings of rubato and some wonderfully distinctive phrase shaping.
But then the orchestra comes in and everything immediately settles
down to an even conformity. They evidently have different ideas
about the piece, and the violin solos often sound like they
have been transplanted from somewhere else. That's not necessarily
a fault, in fact it fits quite neatly into the narrative, with
the wilful Scheherazade getting her own way, and achieving independence
- or at least survival - on her own terms.
The sound quality is good. There is detail in the orchestral
sound, although this being R-K there could always be room for
more. The packaging includes three different photographs of
the orchestra playing at the Festival Hall, which is somewhat
deceptive given that this recording was made at the Henry Wood
Hall. But the acoustic there is better anyway, and it certainly
benefits the audio.
So, a good Scheherazade and an excellent Russian Easter
Festival. This is not quite vintage Dutoit, but it is a
recording that benefits from his many years of experience. As
I mentioned, he is a conductor who really knows how to get the
best out of an orchestra, and his continuing association with
the RPO can only work in their favour. My only real objection
is that the first movement in particular is a bit limp, but
the later movements of the symphony and the overture at the
end are all magnificent.
see also review by Bob