Skazka (Fairy Tale)/Rimsky-Korsakov

July 18, 2010

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name Legend but it is exactly the same work as the more popular title Skazka so don’t think you’ve discovered a new unpublished work.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

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