July 31, 2010
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