Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade, Op 35 [47:40]
Tsar Saltan, Suite, Op 57 [19:29]
Samuel Magad (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. January-February 1993, Orchestra Hall, Chicago, USA
WARNER APEX 2564 67429-0 [67:09]

This is a very good Scheherazade from Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony. The first few minutes are a little lacking in energy, but the excitement level picks up nicely thereafter. There’s the terrific brass playing one would expect, dramatic contrast between episodes in the tale of the Kalendar Prince, and ardent love scenes between prince and princess. The technicolor orchestration is shown off to grand effect. Samuel Magad is a fine violin soloist, technically perfect and delivering his lines maybe not ‘rhapsodically’ but like good solos in a concerto: you know exactly what’s coming but you’re still very pleased by it. The recorded sound is good, rather on the spacious side, but at a low level which necessitates turning up the volume.

Believe it or not, this is the second Scheherazade/Tsar Saltan coupling featuring an American orchestra to be released at budget price in 2011. What does that say about the current glut of good recordings available? The other is a new Naxos recording with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, and it does have the advantage over this one, both in Naxos’s richly present sound (better bass too) and in the playing itself, always marginally more exciting than here. This is especially true in Tsar Saltan: when the tsarina is trapped in a barrel at sea. The Seattle reading is slower and more anguished, with serious emotional commitment. For the celebratory finale Schwarz pulls out all the stops and his players, creating an unbelievably exciting racket around the two-minute mark, make the Chicago Symphony sound positively bored.

I certainly can’t discredit the results here; there’s nothing much to criticize by Barenboim, the Chicago Symphony, or soloist Magad. It’s just that if you put on the CD without telling me the artists’ identities, aside from citing the excellent trombones I wouldn’t have a clue to go on. Don’t get me wrong: this is really, really good. Nobody could possibly be disappointed by it. Buy it and turn up the volume and you’ll have a very good time. But I can’t shake off the feeling that they were having a lot more fun in Seattle.

Brian Reinhart

Buy it and turn up the volume and you’ll have a good time. But this is only the second-best budget Scheherazade of 2011.