Perhaps next to his orchestral masterpiece Scheherazade this is his next performed in terms of popularity. This is a work that musicians like to play as it is filled with Spanish material, bright and full of energy. It was material that Rimsky-Korsakov heard during his one trip to Spain when he was a naval cadet. He had originally conceived this work as some sort of violin fantasy, thus the solo parts for the instrument not unlike the concertmaster performing in Scheherazade. However, once he began the work took on a different form and almost became a template for his next composition Scheherazade followed by his extremely colorful Russian Easter Overture. All three of these pieces were written during the late 1880’s to early 1890’s and are some of the finest orchestral work ever written.

While I’ve included only nine recordings in the review there could easily have been 30 or more available, as it seems most major symphonies have recorded this lively piece to the delight of audiences as the blend of Spain and Russia came together so nicely and the fifteen minute length seems ideal for programs. Used as a model Ravel went on to compose his Rapsodie Espagnol. And who better to study orchestration from than Rimsky-Korsakov. While it doesn’t have the flare of Capriccio Italian it certainly includes several solos with some delicate work from the percussion. The cymbal crash as well as the gong is important in the fourth part “Scena e canto gitano.” It just is such a small but important addition making it just so. With the exception of the Sandor /Hungarian State Recording, which I can’t recommend to you, unless price is a huge factor (seen this one for a dollar), the others represent the work well and part of your decision is going to be based on what else is included with it, unless money is no object and you can afford multiple recordings.

My favorite overall recording is the Dorati/London recording. In spite of it being 50 years old I found it to be equal in performance to the Kondrashin/RCA Symphony but better recorded. The RCA recording technique of using too much channel separation for their stereo was quite evident and I enjoyed the brighter recording. The Le Coq d’or (Golden Cockerel), and Russian Easter Overture are good performances and make the recording even better. Only the Borodin Polovtsian Dances From Igor fall short of the mark.

The much talked about Kondrashin recording is well played and certainly could be a first choice if one were also interested in Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, Khachaturian’s Masquerade and Kabalevsky’s The Comedians. There is nice warmth and vibrancy to the recording but the channel separating is unacceptable.

Russian Nights offers the listener a broad choice of popular Russian themes on a good compilation listenable CD.The performance of the Capriccio Espagnol however is rather lackluster. I felt the orchestra was merely going through the motions. However, I did enjoy the performance of Khachaturian’s The Love Theme from Spartacus and Liadov’s seldom played Music Box, albeit a short two minutes and there are other worthy pieces especially for the newcomer to Russian music.

I would only recommend the Jarvi set if one were also interested in the Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonies as this is a 2 CD set. Capriccio is well played but not worthy of the extra price. The performance of the three symphonies is top rate and should definitely be considered if one wants these in their collection.

The Bakels recording on BIS is performed nicely with the added bonus of the seldom played Piano Concerto as well as The Tsar Saltan Suite.

If you’re looking for the Legend/Skazka as well as Capriccio then the Sinaisky would be your choice. It also offers a nice recording of the Sinfonietta on Russian Themes.

The Best of Rimsky Korsakov is best reserved for one who wants an introduction to the kind of material he composed and his orchestral style.

The Lazarev/Bolshoi recording seems to be a bit rushed but it is nicely recorded, well played and the brass standout. The Golden Cockerel Suite is done very well so if you need both of these in your collection and don’t mind the showy quickened pace.

Whatever choice you make Capriccio Espagnol should be part of your collection along with other Rimsky-Korsakov compositions.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings:

1…. Kiril Kondrashin conducting the RCA Symphony (RCA 09026-63302-2). Part of the RCA Living Stereo series from 1958. (Also includes Khachaturian Masquerade Suite, Kabalevsky the Comedians, and Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien) ADD recording

2…. Antal Dorati conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (Mercury434 308-2). Part of the Mercury Living Presence series from 1959. (Also includes Rimsky-Korsakov Suite from “LeCoq d’Or,” Russian Easter Overture and Borodin Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor.”) ADD recording.

3….Neeme Jarvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (DG423-604-2). A 2CD set which also includes his 3 Symphonies and Russian Easter Festival Overture. DDD recording from 1988

4….Kees Bakels conducting the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (BIS CD-1387) (Also includes his Piano Concerto, the Tale of Tsar Saltan Suite, Sadko, and Russian Easter Festival Overture) A DDD recording from 2004

5….Sassily Sinaisky conducting the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos 10424). Also includes Overture to “The Maid of Pskov,” Legend, Neapolitan Song, Overture to “The Tsars Bride, “and Sinfonietta on Russian Themes.).A DDD recording from 2007

6…. Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (Telarc CD 80657). (Also includes 10 short Russian works from various composers.) A DSD from 2006

7….Janos Sandor conducts the Hungarian State Orchestra (Delta Entertainment) Also includes Scheherazade.) A DDD recording from 2003

8….Keith Clark conducts the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.55667) Also includes selected tracks from Scheherazade, Sadko, Mlada, Snow Maiden, Antar, and the complete Russian Easter Overture. A DDD recording from 1997

9….Alexander Lazarev conducts the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra (Erato 4509-94808-2). Also includes The Golden Cockerel Suite, May Night Overture, The Tsar’s Bride Overture, and Russian Easter Overture. A DDD recording from 1994

This reviewer who has attended many concerts has never heard the Piano Concerto of Rimsky-Korsakov performed. Perhaps it is due to the fact that this was an area that Rimsky-Korsakov seldom explored and the popularity of Scheherazade Perhaps it is due to the short length or just the fact that it has seldom been considered part of a basic repertoire for a concert pianist except for Michael Ponti whose recording I purchased on vinyl in the early 70’s and also on CD. Perhaps it is as Campbell talks about in his liner notes that the complex cadenza requires considerable familiarity. Over the past several years there has been a recording by Campbell with the Royal Philharmonic on Telarc and recently Ogawa with the Malaysian Philharmonic on BIS also fine recordings.

The work is loosely based on a Franz Lizst concerto using published themes from Rimsky-Korsakov’s mentor and teacher Balakirev. As is the case with so many of his works it has a strong well used melody with very adequate support from the orchestra. However, this is a showcase piece for a pianist and Ponti attacks this work like as if it was his own and pulls out all the stops. While the orchestra and the fact that this is an analogue transfer are slightly less than the Telarc and BIS recordings, which are both digital, the performance gives the nod to this oldie but goodie Vox Box (CDX5082). This set in the $10.00 price range offers eight additional Korsakov orchestral works and even though they may not be the strongest choices they are still quite listenable.

The Telarc (80454) recording does have the advantage of a unique coupling with the Third Symphony of Tchaikovsky opening up the door to owning this less popular but certainly a must have for your Russian collection of material. Performed by Levine and the Royal Philharmonic and well recorded as usual from the Telarc engineers one would not lose a whole lot with the Campbell interpretation. In fact it is performed at a slower pace which might be to the liking of some listeners.

I found the BIS (CD 1387) recording to be far too clinical and the least favorite of the three recordings. However, the CD to my surprise offers one of the better recordings of the often performed Capriccio Espagnol as well as a nice Russian Easter Overture both of which will be reviewed in separate articles/reviews.

Money being no object, all three recordings is of merit and the other material is well worth having in your collection especially if you’re a fan of the orchestral genius of Rimsky-Korsakov and not having the Third Symphony of Tchaikovsky in your collection.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings

1….Michael Ponti playing with the Hamburg Symphony conducted by Richard Kapp (Vox Box CDX 5082) (A 2 CD set which includes Invisible City of Kitezh, Mlada, May Night, Christmas Eve, Overture on Russian Themes, Skazka, Sadko, and Concert Fantasy for Violin. ADD recording from 1972)

2….Jeffrey Campbell playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gilbert Levine (Telarc CD80454) (Also includes Symphony No. 3 of Peter Tchaikovsky. DDD recording from 1996)

3….Noriko Ogawa playing with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kees Bakels (BIS –CD-1387) (Also includes Cappriccio Espagnol, The Tale of Tsar Sultan, Sadko, and Russian Easter Festival Overture. DDD recording from 2004)

While he printed the prologue to Pushkin’s Russian and Ludmilla in the program for Skazka it didn’t really have anything to do with the story of the cat and the oak tree, but as he explained in his autobiography it was Russian in flavor and dealt with a magical fairy tale world. Originally called Baba Yaga ,the witch who flew and had fowl legs; this idea was dropped in favor of Pushkin. Knowing this, it was up to the listener to decide what images he wanted to conjure up. It has a similar style to his Scheherazade written later and perhaps this piece had some influence on his famous tone poem. Disliked by his teacher and mentor Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov went ahead and published it anyway and actually changed the dedication from Balakirev to his new and exciting student Glazunov. This Chandos recording uses the lesser known name Legend but it is exactly the same work as the more popular title Skazka so don’t think you’ve discovered a new unpublished work.

The sixteen minute plus work is written in five movements without break and easily flows as a complete entity. In fact two of the recordings, the Vox and Naxos are recorded as one track. The times range from 16:44 for Chandos, 17:36 for Vox, and 19:12 for the Naxos. It is filled with the sound of a mythical bird, the cat chained to the tree, the forest, and a water nymph. Like Scheherazade it features a solo violin and attention grabbing horns as well as dark and mysterious sounds from the bassoon and bass section that conjure up mysterious images. The clarinet, flute, and harp are also featured and Rimsky uses just enough percussion to grab the attention of the listener.

Choosing is a difficult task as value, recording quality, additional material, and performance all come into play when making your decision. I enjoy the brass of the Moscow Symphony but found the pace to be a slow to my taste. The recording is excellent with engineering and mastering properly done. The Vox Box is an excellent value at $10.00 for a 2 CD set which gives you 9 different Korsakov compositions. The recording is the brightest of the three due to the analog recording of thirty years ago with good tempo but the orchestra performance and mastering are lacking. Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic are in top form and definitely get my vote as the best overall except for the brass section. If I could have the brass from the Moscow with the conducting of Sinaisky it would be perfect. The recording is also coupled with a good version of his Capriccio Espagnol and the Sinfonietta on Russian Themes thus a choice worthy of consideration. The Vox Box offers the seldom heard Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor nicely played by Michael Ponti and the Naxos offers the Fantasia on Serbian Themes another seldom recorded composition. I will let the reader decide which direction to take.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings:

1….Sassily Sinaisky conducting the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos 10424) (Also includes Capriccio Espagnol, Overture to “The Maid of Pskov,” Neapolitan Song, Overture to “The Tsars Bride,” and Sinfonietta on Russian Themes.) A DDD recording from 2007

2….Othmar Maga conducting the Bochum Symphony (Vox CDX 5082) (A 2 CD set which includes Piano Concerto, Invisible City of Kitezh, Mlada, May Night, Christmas Eve, Overture on Russian Themes, Sadko, and Concert Fantasy for Violin.) ADD recording from the 70’s.

3….Igor Golovchin conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.553513) Also includes The Maid of Pskov, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, and Fantasia on Serbian Themes.) A DDD recording from 1996

This reviewer was introduced to this orchestral masterpiece nearly 50 years ago with an orchestra I don’t remember on a set of 12” 78 RPM that my uncle had. We listened on his sweet 16 speaker he had made and I was in awe of the incredible music I heard. When I got my first stereo one of the very early recordings I purchased was Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35. performed by the L’Orchestre de la Suiss Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet on the Decca label. Over the years I’ve owned far too many different recordings of this classic piece. It seemed like every time there was a new recording my record shop, Classic Encounters, had it available and I had to have it to compare with the remote possibility that it might be better than what I already had. Also called Sheherazade, I knew this recording well enough to be able to conduct it, or so I thought.

Named after the woman who told the stories every night of the Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights to postpone her execution the evidence of the Islam culture is ever present in this work. Featuring an oriental violin solo by the concertmaster of the orchestra, which is the story line of Scheherazade, the material of this 41 minute work is presented in four parts. So powerful was this work I had to not only go out and buy the bound score but Rimsky-Korsakov’s book on The Principle of Orchestration, which went into even greater detail about the work. He explained why he chose what instrument to achieve what mood from the listener.

My 2009 Penguin Classical Music Guide lists twelve recordings among many including the fine budget Naxos version featuring Enrique Batiz conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, London. It is in this reviewer’s opinion the best value. Bright and vivid, well recorded, and played at the proper tempo this is impossible to beat dollar for dollar as it is also coupled with similar style The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Music Pictures, Op. 57. The violin solo by David Nolan merely adds icing to the already attractive package.

The Tsar Sultan, based on a poem by Pushkin, was written approximately 10 years later is another exercise in color and orchestration as so much of Rimsky-Korsakov’s material is. One could only imagine the marvelous material that he would have come up with had he been given the opportunity to write for films. This is definitely a Top 100 must have classical work if for nothing else the superb orchestration, perhaps the finest of all time. A strong recommendation goes out to this recording.

1. I. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship 00:09:18

2. II. The Kalender Prince 00:11:23

3. III. The Young Prince and the Young Princess 00:09:58

4. IV. Festival at Baghdad – The Sea 00:11:26

The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Op. 57

Nolan, David, violin

Philharmonia Orchestra

Batiz, Enrique, Conductor

5. I. The Tsar’s Farewell and Departure 00:04:33

6. II. The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea 00:07:23

7. III. The Three Wonders 00:07:05

Total Playing Time: 01:01:06

The Edge/Goldsmith

July 2, 2010

Directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin the story centered on a huge Kodiak bear who felt his space was being invaded by humans with subplots around murder and a love triangle. The scenery, acting from Hopkins and Baldwin, and the Goldsmith score all contributed to this being a must see picture if you happened to miss it. The build up tension was at an all time high as survival over the 1500 pound bear becomes paramount.

1997 was a busy year for Jerry as he also did fine scores for L.A. Confidential (Oscar nominee), Air Force One, and Fierce Creatures. While some will argue that The Edge was his finest in 97 and was worthy of the Oscar nomination this reviewer very early on fell in love with the theme of Confidential, considering it one of his finest efforts albeit it very close to the Bernstein main theme from All On The Waterfront. Having said that I really like this score and fell for the infectious theme from the first moment I heard it. From being played on the oboe in a minor key very sadly to being featured on the heroic and majestic French horns it is proud and filled with beauty and nicely complemented by the strings. It is featured on many tracks of this expanded score, which includes 30+ additional minutes of material in this new limited 3500 release from La-La Land (LLLCD 1131). One of the bonus tracks, an alternate jazz rendition of the Edge theme performed by a jazz trio of Bunker, Lang, and —- did a fine piano bar version with crisp cymbals, positive bass line, and a nice improvisational solo from the piano featuring upper register and a nice harmonic left hand. Back in the days it could have been a Bill Evans piece as it had a similar sound although far less complex than Bill. “The Birds” is a good underscore cue with ominous horns, a shrieking sound imitating the birds and some minor moments in the use of the Edge theme creating a very listenable cue. “Stalking” is another good underscore featuring dissonant sliding trombone cues with appropriate sounding violin harmonics creating an eerie sounding cue. The main attraction is the main theme and you’ll not be disappointed in the number of times you get to hear it.

If you own the original RCA release purchasing the La-La Land will give you an additional 30 minutes of material including my favorite jazz cue of the Edge. Liner notes by Jeff Bond are a bonus as he gives you a mini book of information about the film and cues. One could always sell the RCA on e-bay and upgrade to this new release. Goldsmith fans have already purchased this CD and if not are making plans to do so. While not my favorite it is certainly one of his better efforts. Recommended.

Track listing

1. Early Arrival* (01:32)

2. Lost In the Wild(s) (02:59)

3. A Lucky Man / Open Door* (01:41)

4. Mighty Hunter (01:31)

5. The Spirit* (00:36)

6. Birds (02:22)

7. The Fire / Breakfast* (02:31)

8. Rich Man* (00:58)

9. The Ravine (04:36)

10. Bitter Coffee (03:01)

11. Wound* (01:38)

12. Stephen’s Death* (02:26)

13. The Cage / False Hope / No Matches* (03:34)

14. Stalking (05:46)

15. Deadfall / Bear Fight (06:21)

16. The Discovery / Trust Your Back* (05:01)

17. The River (02:26)

18. Rescued (06:03)

19. End Title (Lost In the Wild) (s)* (01:59)

20. The Edge (02:55)

Bonus tracks:

21. False Hope (Alternate Take)* (01:08)

22. Rescued (Film Version Ending)* (01:19)

23. The Edge (Alternate Take)* (03:00)

*Previously unreleased

Total Duration: 01:05:23