Scheherazade/Rimsky-Korsakov

July 9, 2010

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

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