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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite for Orchestra Op.15 [43:17]; Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Petrushka (1911 version) [31:26]
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatory, 2003 (Rimsky-Korsakov), 2007 (Stravinsky) MELODIYA MELCD1002508 [74:43]
Vladimir Fedoseyev has been at the helm of the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra for over forty years. This CD is part of the orchestra’s 85th anniversary edition – it was founded in 1930, though it has achieved worldwide prominence as “Fedoseyev’s orchestra”. I’m something of a Scheherazade fanatic, with over thirty versions in my personal CD collection. I first fell for the piece as a ten year old when I bought the Eugene Goossens/LSO version from World Record Club (originally recorded by Everest) on a reel to reel tape. I’d never heard it before and simply couldn’t stop playing it. Even to this day, that recording is “how it should go”, so to speak. First impressions often last forever. Scheherazade has always struck me as a masterpiece of orchestration.
The orchestral playing at this live concert is extraordinarily brilliant and involving. The wind solos are phenomenal. The strings have a glorious clarity and sheen and the brass are typically Russian. Some will resist the vibrato of the French horn solos but this is probably exactly what Rimsky-Korsakov was used to hearing during his lifetime. Luckily the audience is a well behaved bunch and there are minimal distractions to be heard. I was completely transfixed by this Scheherazade and absolutely loved it until the performance had a disastrous fall at the final fence but more of that later. There are some unusual moments along the way. After the opening flourish of The Sea and Sinbad’s ship, the woodwind chords are played straight together, omitting the rests. A strange beginning but the solo violin, when it enters, is gentle and pleasing and the orchestral playing (despite some hollow sounding timps) is glorious. Fedoseyev adds some subtle changes in tempo, slowing down for the central horn and cello solos for example, but the effect is to bring repose to the score, thus allowing the music to breathe. He also treats the first two movements as a whole, with The Tale of the Kalendar Prince following immediately after the end of the first movement without any sort of pause. This second movement is delivered with great drive and virtuosity. The orchestral tone is breath-taking and the loud, comical trombone solo is bound to raise a smile. The Young Prince and the Young Princess moves forward at a flowing pace but it sounds just right. Other versions can often over-romanticise the music to a standstill. The strings are outstanding. Another curious feature is the use of the side drum in this movement. It is played without a snare or maybe it could even be a tenor drum. Either way, it’s unusual and it works admirably. The last movement has that feeling of impending doom about it, we feel that something cataclysmic is about happen. This is edge of the seat playing right up to and including the shipwreck. Following the shipwreck (marvellously done here) the cellos usually play Sinbad’s theme from the first movement very gently underneath the magical story-telling of the solo violin. This is some of the most beguiling music that I know. For some inexplicable reason 2 minutes of the violin solo are edited out, thus ruining the magical ending. Either the conductor is using an edition that I’ve never come across or an artistic decision was taken to excise this passage from the score. Maybe the engineer made an error at the post-production stage. Who knows, but the bottom line is that it completely rules this CD out of court. It’s such a shame, because until that cataclysmic own goal this recording had gone very close to the top of the list.
It may be rather pointless reviewing Petrushka but it must be said that the playing is electrifying and full of virtuosity. Some of Fedoseyev’s tempi are unusual but he often sheds new light on many passages where detail emerges with startling realism.
The recording quality isn’t top drawer but it has bite, impact and a pleasant but rather two-dimensional sound stage. Had it not been for the ending of Scheherazade I would be urging people to hear this CD. Maybe they still should but it’s expensive and flawed. So annoying!!