Nikolay Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Suite from The snow maiden (1880-1881) [12:34]
Sadko – musical picture, op.5 (1869, rev. 1892) [10:53]
Suite from Mlada (1889-1890) [18:24]
Suite from Le coq d’or (1907) [28:13]
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, USA, 9, 18, 30 March, 19 April 2011
NAXOS 8.572787 [70:04]
This new Seattle Symphony/Schwarz release comes hard on the heels of two earlier discs (Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol) in what is becoming a valuable series devoted to Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral music.
While the focus this time around has shifted predominantly to suites derived from some of Rimsky's typically quirky and whimsical operas, the standard of musical execution remains as high as before.
Gerard Schwarz, who recorded these performances last year during his 26th - and final - season as the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director, has built up an orchestra that is self-evidently well drilled. Simultaneously, however, its members play with apparent spontaneity and imagination, as well as the verve and idiomatic style required by these colourful scores. They also display a degree of conviction in the music that is frequently missing from other accounts that treat it - perhaps misled by its surface glitter - more superficially.
The Seattle orchestra's by now familiar characteristics - plangent strings, hugely characterful winds and strong, assertive brass - are evident right from the opening suite from The snow maiden and are maintained consistently throughout all the tracks.
The disc’s longest continuous piece, the “musical picture” Sadko, offers perhaps the most striking performance. Schwarz’s generally rather forthright and propulsive approach is nevertheless flexible enough to glory in Rimsky’s evocatively atmospheric and pictorial passages. The conductor’s expert ear for orchestral balance - aided by some very fine engineering from Dmitriy Lipay - uncovers lots of exquisite but otherwise frequently unheard detail.
The suite from the opera Mlada, developed by Rimsky from music he had contributed to an earlier and abortive collaborative project with fellow composers Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui and Minkus, is the least familiar work on offer here. That said, its final cortege has had the occasional outing as an orchestral lollipop. Of its five individual movements, the central three are a series of attractive and quirky dances - Russian, Lithuanian and Indian - which rather makes one regret that the composer never tried his hand at a full-length ballet score. An exotic scenario like that of the Minkus/Delibes collaboration La source, recently revived by the Opera National de Paris, would surely have suited him down to the ground.
The suite from Le coq d’or is the most substantial on the disc and is delivered not only with the appropriate mixture of exoticism, swagger and aplomb but with lashings of musical wit too, as Rimsky relishes every opportunity to poke fun at his opera’s ridiculously pompous and self-important characters. Schwarz and his orchestra play so expertly and with such respect for the composer’s characteristic idiom that everything comes up as fresh as new paint.
Anyone who has already invested in the two earlier volumes in this series need not hesitate to add this third disc to their collection. Others can invest in all three with the greatest confidence and the prospect of enjoying them all immensely.
Exoticism, swagger and aplomb … add this disc to your collection.