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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Philharmonia Zurich/Fabio Luisi
rec. live, Opernhaus Zurich, July 2016
ACCENTUS PHR0106 [47:42]

Barring some of the usual idiosyncrasies of live music-making (the ensemble is pretty rough at the end of the Kalendar Prince, for example), there is nothing wrong with this Scheherazade. Fabio Luisi begins with a fairly vigorous tempo for the Sultan's music, but the ensuing seascape is slower and fairly majestic, broadening out beautifully towards the end. The Kalendar Prince's music is quirky and engrossing, even if the central section could so with more drama, and is graced with a very characterful bassoon solo at the beginning. The strings are gorgeous for the Young Prince and Princess, and the winds have a whale of a time in the central section. The Festival of Baghdad is perhaps a little tame at the beginning, but that has the advantage of giving it somewhere to go. Its climax is still a little understated, which is a shame, and the return of the sea music feels like it just appears rather than being the culmination of a musical paragraph. Still, the violin solo is very well played throughout (even though it has trouble holding on to the stratospheric final notes without tonal deviation), and the recorded sound is very good: the harp flourish at the end of the second movement is particularly striking, taking the listener as though from behind.

So there's nothing wrong with this recording; but there isn't really anything particularly striking about it either. It's a well-played, middle of the road Scheherazade, which is perfectly fine but not particularly memorable, I'm afraid. One imagines that the only reason it exists at all is because the Philharmonia Zurich have been given some sort of philanthropic grant to go towards recording. Otherwise, I think the concert would have passed and been enjoyed by its audience with no follow-up, and the world would have been none the worse off.

The rise of orchestra's own-label recordings (of which this is one, in partnership with Accentus) is to be welcomed, of course, but whereas the LSO Live ones are generally reserved only for something a bit special, releases like this seem a bit spurious and, to be honest, pretty unnecessary, when you can get Reiner's Chicago version at a bargain price, if you know where to look. It’s also pretty thin to expect the public to pay full whack for a CD that’s only 48 minutes long. For a popular work like this, with so much high level competition, I'm afraid I can't see much of a future for this disc.

Simon Thompson



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