Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio espagnol [16:17]
Mayskaya noch' (May Night): Overture [8:24]
Tsarskaya nevesta (The Tsar's Bride): Overture [6:09]
Overture on Russian Themes, Op. 28 [11:31]
Pskovityanka (The Maid of Pskov): Overture [5:25]
Dubinushka (The little oak stick), Op. 62 [3:46]
Svetliy prazdnik (Russian Easter Festival), Op. 36 [15:13]
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington (USA) on 4 and 16 June 2010 (Capriccio and Dubinushka); 9 March 2011 (May Night); 20 October 2010 (Bride, Russian and Russian Easter Festival); 24 February 2011 (Pskov)
NAXOS 8.572788 [66:45]

Familiar as the pieces in this collection may be, the performance, sound quality and interpretation stands out for the vitality, creativity, and resonance that comes with this recording. Under Schwarz’s direction a well-known piece like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture sounds fresh because of the details that emerge within the conductor’s fine conception of the entire structure. The opening evokes the solo violin passage in the composer’s Scheherezade - available from Schwarz on another Naxos CD with the Tale of Tsar Saltan Suite - albeit on a smaller scale, and sets up the passages that follow as various sections of the Overture emerge like strands of a well-considered narrative. In this performance the dark and reedy woodwind timbres are distinctly articulated, while the brass have a burnished sound that resonates clearly. These and others details fit well into the Schwarz’s dramatic pacing that benefits from sensitivity to the dynamics. This performance has the excitement that comes with listening to the Russian Easter Festival Overture for the first time.

Schwarz offers a similar reading of the atmospheric Capriccio Espagnol, a piece that still succeeds in conveying a sense of Spanish locales. Here the famous Alborada sounds fresh and vital, with repetitions offering the kind of unity that occurs with the Promenade of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Schwarz elicits a sense of bravura without arriving at anything overblown or out of character with the rest of the piece. The element of contrast that is part of the suite allows the various scorings to have a sense of identity, while the content benefits from the solid phrasing and appropriate tempos that Schwarz contributes to the whole. The fitting subtlety of the second movement, the set of Variations, is welcome for its pacing and resonant sonorities. Here the block chords give a sense of the finely balanced sound of the Seattle Symphony under Schwarz’s leadership. All in all this is a memorable performance for various reasons, particularly the Scena e canto Gitano, which also makes use of a prominent solo violin part. Even the set-piece of the Finale has a sense of drama sometimes absent elsewhere.

The other works on this recording also merit attention for the details that emerge in all the performances, as with the fine rendering of the dissonant passages of the Overture to The Maid of Pskov. Here the full string sound provides the basis for its quickly shifting and characterful palette of orchestral colors. At times the accompaniment figures draw as much attention as the thematic material, and this contributes to the convincing effect. It is similar to the result in the Overture on Russian Themes, in which familiar themes are articulated eloquently and without caricature. The “Slava” tune that Rimsky-Korsakov’s colleague Mussorgsky used in the opera Boris Godunov becomes a generating idea in this Russian showpiece.

Overall this recording is admirable for the exemplary performances of these overtures and other popular pieces.

James L. Zychowicz

Exemplary performances of these overtures and other popular pieces ... admirable.