Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Fritz Reiner
Performer: Sidney Harth
Composer: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Label: Jmc / Xrcd
Size: 215 MB
Scheherazade, symphonic suite for orchestra, Op. 35
Composed by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov
Performed by Chicago Symphony Orchestra
with Sidney Harth
Conducted by Fritz Reiner
01. ‘The Sea and Sinbad’s ship’ in E major
02. ‘The story of Kalender Prince’ in B minor
03. ‘The Young Prince and the young Princess’ in G major
04. ‘Festival at Baghdad – The Sea’ in E major
“Enchantment awaits within”
“Scheherazade may be familiar, but she neither breeds nor deserves contempt.” So says the liner notes, obviously responding to the many critical dismissals of the piece as a “warhorse” or as “pops” material. Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, who also recorded three Bartok masterpieces for Living Stereo at about the same time, demonstrate that Rimsky-Korsakov’s biggest hit is truly an outstanding “concerto for orchestra”. This recording dates from February 8, 1960 yet sounds like it was made earlier this week. Is digital recording really necessary when we can have such clear, bright sound from a half century ago with no tape hiss?
Listen to the brass leap out of the speakers at the opening measures, followed by soft, gentle flutes. While much is made of Sidney Harth’s violin solos over Edward Druzinsky’s vibrant harp, the ravishing clarinet of Clark Brody must be heard to be believed. And so it goes throughout the piece, from 2nd movement bassoon, oboe, and piercing piccolo, to the 3rd movement’s opening string melody and snare drum flourishes, to the 4th movement’s rhythmic Baghdad festival, with chattering trumpets and bass drum explosions. Maybe it has been over-programmed over the years, but only the most cold-hearted academic snob would dismiss such a riveting score as this. If music listeners were given more opportunities to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony #2 “Antar” (unfortunately never recorded by Reiner and the Chicago SO), they would love it and demand it just as much as the ever-popular Scheherazade.
The other reviewers have ignored this disc’s makeweight, Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale, recorded on November 3, 1956 by the same forces. While not on the same level as the three ballets that made him world famous, this piece is the closest Stravinsky came to writing a flute-and-percussion concerto. Some say it drags, but this is fascinating, other-worldly music. As with Scheherazade, the brass leaps out in the cacophonus opening, and one is amazed yet again at the age of this lively, vivid recording. In this symphonic suite taken from a less-than-successful opera, the flute cadenzas portray the titular nightingale. Add some vigorous percussion, quirky bassoons, tinkling harp and celesta, shrill strings and trumpets, wild oboes, and echoing gongs, and you have one of Stravinsky’s most imaginative tributes to the Far East. Perhaps this is not absolutely top-drawer material, but it’s still very deserving of airings and performances, and it loses nothing when paired with the much-more famous work of his one-time teacher.
This disc is an outstanding bargain for definitive performances/recordings such as these with a conductor and orchestra that must be mentioned with the all-time greats. Highly, highly recommended!