December 30, 2011
When his father succumbed to pneumonia in 1922 a sixteen year old Shostakovich found work playing piano to accompany silent films. This was the start of a relationship with films that would last for fifty years and provide the composer with a steady income. In 1929 Shostakovich wrote his first score to a silent film called New Babylon (1929), a picture that dealt with the Prussian invasion of France in 1870. Still under Lenin’s “Art belongs to the people” policy, the score was bright, dissonant, and barbed. In 1930 the social climate changed and the new goal was “social realism” which marked the beginning of Shostakovich’s political troubles, culminating with his denouncement in 1948 for writing formalist anti-people music. In spite of this he continued on. After the death of Stalin in 1953 the country entered a stage called ‘Thaw’ with relaxed pressure on the arts allowing the release of one of the more popular films, The Gadfly (1955). Shostakovich contributed a lot of the music which was later arranged into a 42 minute 12 movement suite by Lev Atovmian who did combining, re-orchestrating, and composing new material. There is currently no OST material available. If you wish to see the film which it is available in Russian with no subtitles, you’ll find that there is a lot of music that doesn’t appear in this suite.
The film, directed by Alexander Faintsimmer, who also directed another great soundtrack film, Lieutenant Kizhe by Prokofiev, is based on a novel by Ethel Lilian Voynich which deals with Austria occupied Italy in the 1840’s. Arthur ‘Gadfly’ Burton is the rebel and revolutionary member of the youth movement who was given his nickname an annoying stinging insect. Gadfly, as the illegimate son of a cardinal, was dedicated to the Italian cause.
The film emphasizes the corrosive power of the Church, the necessity of binding disparate States into a strong whole and the importance to the country of self-sacrifice. Gadfly is eventually caught and shot by a firing squad. The book became required reading in Russia and over 2.5 million books were sold alone in that country. The character, Burton, was allegedly based on British agent, Russian- born Sidney Reilly, who apparently bared his soul in a relationship with the author, but most of this talk is second hand. ”Romance” track, a lovely violin solo, did become the theme song for a British television series Reilly, Ace of Spies. Could one ponder the truth or fiction?
1… Overture (2:50) very stoic, majestic, and Russian sounding has a generic sound which could fit any number of films. The melody is featured by the strings with excellent harmony from the brass. There is a hint of Tchaikovsky chords in the writing. A second melody offering military victory is quickly replaced by the original theme to end the track. This track is written in a generic way so that it could fit any number of different films. I’ve included an audio clip. 01 – gadfly main overture
2… Contra Dance (2:50) is a baroque waltz for strings delicate and tranquil. This is a complete change from the “Overture “and certainly fits the 1840 time period in the royal court. Written in the ABA you’ll find the middle section definitely has the swagger sound of Shostakovich.
3… People’s Holiday (folk feast or festival) (2:31) offers a festive piece, very Shostakovich, which features some nice clarinet work. The pace is lively like Capriccio Italian and could very well have been the template that Dimitri used for this cue although his sound is evident.
4… Prelude (interlude) (2:30) is a somewhat dark and foreboding adagio that features the lower register strings with harmonic chords from the brass which enhance the eeriness of the material.
5… Barrel Organ Waltz (2:04) was written for Organ which was used in the film but not in the suite. This is one of the sections that Lev Atovmian re-worked for the suite. The mood switches to one of a fairytale like melody offered by the strings with the hurdy-gurdy in the background.
6…Galop (1:47) offers a near break neck pace with Shostakovich bold brassy trombones in the middle section. This is a lively festive track full of fun and an excellent example of a galop. I’ve included an audio clip 05 – gadfly galop
7… Introduction and Dance (6:20) gives the listener a 19th century with the melody coming from the strings with harmony from the harp. The center section is an Italian passacaglia (variation on a ground bass) quite stately in sound. A trio of saxophones returns us to the original melody with more delicate harp. The strings softly end the track with the original melody.
8… Romance (6:19) is a yearning somewhat schmaltzy sound with a romantic violin solo. This is one track that doesn’t sound much like Shostakovich. A nice melody which has been used by ice skating couples is a little syrupy for my taste.
9… Intermezzo (5:07) is another new melody that fits the dreamy romantic part until it becomes quite dramatic in the middle section before returning to the quiet solitude of the strings offering the original melody. Another ABA format as many of these tracks are. This is a very Tchaikovsky sounding piece.
10… Nocturne (4:16) A cello with tremolo strings offers a romantic quiet moment. The cello is quite yearning along with strings which make up the middle section before the cello returns to end the delicate movement.
11… Scene (2:28) is classic Russian sounding ominous music with loud presence from the timpani. Again this could be a cue that Tchaikovsky composed. This doesn’t sound like Shostakovich but is rather generic like Russian music.
12… Finale (2:57) offers a very Shostakovich prelude military march style with the brass offering up the film in a staccato fashion. The percussion is quite loud. The strings lead you back to the original melody you heard in the overture, the only time a theme is repeated in the suite. It ends with a rousing loud crescendo.
Also includes Pirogov, Hamlet, King Lear, Five Days, Five Nights, Michurin, The Fall of Berlin, and The Golden Mountains. This is a (3) CD set from the Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier. The tempo is painfully long in parts. The recording is a digital remaster from analog tapes.
Also includes Golden Mountains and Volochayev. The BBC Philharmonic is conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. The 24-bit/96kHz offers an extremely nice sound although the performance is not quite as good as the Melodiya.
Sections 4 and 5 are combined on this recording. The USSR Cinema Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Emin Khachaturian. The Melodiya engineers plus the 1962 vintage give this recording a slightly muddy sound but the performance from the orchestra is the finest of the sampled recordings.
Also includes Hamlet. This recording is a DDD from 1989. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Leonid Grin.
Also includes Five Days, Five Nights. This is a DDD recording from 1997. The Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Theodore Kuchar. The performance definitely benefits from the digital recording allowing you to hear the clear presence of the delicate percussion nicely separated from the rest of the orchestra. You get the feeling in the performance that the Ukraine Symphony has played this material before and is very comfortable with it. Kuchar’s interpretation and conducting leaves little to be desired. He takes a slower pace often but is urgent and frantic when necessary. The sax trio on the Introduction (Prelude) track is somewhat dull and lackluster compared to the Chandos and Melodiya recordings. The smoothness of the trio is missing. Overall this is a fine budget value as is usually the case with Naxos.
December 29, 2011
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December 23, 2011
If a person hadn’t heard Enter Laughing or Synanon the conclusion you might draw is that one is depressing and serious music (Synanon) and the other whimsical and fun (Enter Laughing). You’d only be half right as Synanon is full of jazz and fun music also. Perhaps I was mislead because Synanon has to do with drug rehabilitation. Even though I was a fan of Hefti dating back to “Li’l Darling when he worked for the Basie band, this was one soundtrack that I completely missed along with ever seeing the film. The same scenario held true for Enter Laughing and Quincy Jones, another composer I’ve followed over the years, my first album being Jones playing Henry Mancini. In fact after several spins of this last release of 2011 for Kritzerland (20020-9) I can tell you that the scores have many things in common. Both composers offered strong main title jazz roots material with a memorable melody, good arranging, excellent use of the keyboard (organ and harpsichord), and clever use of previously written compositions orchestrated for their respected sounds.
SYNANON’S opening main title “Zanke” opens with a melody coming from the organ with drums and bass in the background. The bass trombone with its unique growling sound is added with string harmony to compliment the organ which continues to play the laid back blues theme. Trumpets come into play also offering the melody with harmony now coming from the strings and organ. It ends with a short riff from the trombones. “The Perfect Beginning” offers a new tune featuring the sax backed by guitar and percussion. An improvisational sax, organ, and guitar solos follow with the track ending as it began with the sax playing the melody in an upbeat cue. “Blues for Hopper” is a jazzy cue that features the sax first offering the melody and then a honking improve solo before returning to the melody all nicely done in harmony with the organ. “Hope” is back to the bluesy pace with sax offering the melody followed by a nice organ solo, a short statement from the sax before it ends as it began with the sax playing the melody. “Tonight’s The Night” offers an upbeat nursery rhyme lullaby variation of the main theme with a little wa-wa from the trombone as harmony. “Open House” is another jazz melody which offers a nice toe stomping organ solo.”Put Your Little Foot” returns to the “Tonight’s The Night” theme with the organ offering the theme followed by horns and string also a part of the arrangement. “Zankie” is another orchestration of the main theme with sax playing the melody followed by guitar solo supported by the organ. “Whiffenpoof Song” is a traditional melody sung by a similar sounding chorus to “Open House.” For your information Whiffenpoof is the name of the Yale collegiate coppella and this is like a theme song for the school. The all too brief Hefti score has a nice clear sound with excellent performances from the organ, sax, guitar, and horns. It is the typical sounding stereo of the era that featured this wide stereo sound with individual instruments coming from one channel only.
ENTER LAUGHING, the Quincy Jones offering on this CD has more of a popular sounding big band dance style as it begins with an upbeat main melody repeated from the clarinet, strings, brass, and harpsichord; an arrangement that depicts the swinging brass of the 60’s where the entire orchestra participates nicely in the arrangement that depicts the sound of the comedy film in the 60’s. It is an autobiography of Carl Reiner. This won’t be the first time you’ll hear “Enter Laughing” as it is a significant amount of the score. “Exit Crying” offers another melody, somewhat romantic with the harpsichord playing a significant role in this very danceable track. Don’t let the track title fool you on this one! “Pennies from Heaven” is orchestrated to sound like an older arrangement with Carl Reiner sounding like a victrola recording. “David Dooze It” is comical underscore that is mixed in with the “Entering Laughing” theme. Mel Carter singing and Jones offering a somewhat Dixieland arrangement of the “Enter Laughing” theme followed by an instrumental version of the same melody in a laid back romantic orchestration. The Tin Pan Alley style returns in “Ha-Cha-Cha” featuring Carl Reiner and an unknown female vocalist. A wonderful uplifting jazz arrangement of the Strauss Sailor Waltz featuring some nice brass and piano work in “Vienna Wails” would put a smile on Johann’s face. “I Hear You Calling” is another version of “Enter Laughing” big band style with some wailing sax work. Mel Carter ends the CD with a straight dance style version of “Enter Laughing.” The sound is clear and crisp but also suffers from the wide separation stereo used by the companies in the 60’s.
Bruce continues to unearth some excellent material that is definitely worth having in your collection. It is nice to see Hefti getting recognition for something other than the mono word Batman song as well as composer Quincy Jones another composer who made a valuable contribution to Hollywood.
December 16, 2011
Chamber music was a style of music that came from the middle ages being performed to royalty in private chambers. Over a period of time we’ve seen the evolution of this style of music to include many different combinations of instruments including a trio for cello, piano, and violin, the instruments chosen for this recording along with the voice of Kristi Holden. BSX offers this new release of material from the Twilight series of three films which certainly lends itself to this kind of chamber genre quite nicely. The composers Burwell, Desplat, and Shore certainly fit into this kind of style with the scores they wrote for the films. The term chamber orchestra is quite broad and includes duets, trios, quartets, quintets, and all the way up to and including a 40 piece orchestra. BSX Records is not new to this style of music having released material from Gregg Nestor, Christopher Young, and Bear McCreary in a similar classical chamber type setting.
The first 8 tracks of the CD are from the original Twilight and are arranged for duet of piano and violin. They nicely complement one another and it easy to hear that they’ve played together for a period of time. There is a brief introduction and the recognizable melody is first introduced on the piano and eventually both violin and piano join together. This theme is offered throughout the 8 tracks. “I Would Be The Meal” is an attractive underscore cue with string plucking from the violin to enhance the simple melody. The Twilight Saga: New Moon offers the Desplat theme “New Moon” first as a duo in “The Meadow,” and then the addition of the cello in “New Moon.” “Volturi Waltz” reminded me of the Saint Saen piece “Dance Macabre” with its violin solo nicely complemented by the cello and piano with just a hint of rhythm. I could very easily hear this melody with additional instrumentation in an extended version. “You’re Alive/Memories of Edward is a repeat of the theme with the addition of Kristi Holden and harp samples. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse the third film of the trilogy offers a new theme “Jacob’s Theme” from Howard Shore. It fits in nicely with the other two melodies as it offers a yearning melody that is nicely arranged for the trio. The four members of the ensemble seem to enjoy performing together and it is quite evident. . The final track, a bonus one, arranged by Joohyun Park, is very much a part of the modern electronic age as she offers the Burwell theme “Bella’s Lullaby (How Bella Got Her Groove Back).” This track is more enhanced with samples than any of the previous ones.
The arranging of the material by pianist of the release Dan Redfield does contain some sample percussion and harp to enhance the orchestration on some tracks. Overall I can say that the electronics provide a minimum amount of intrusion for the diehard chamber purist. It is done with good taste and becomes an important enhancement of the material. As previously stated the Park arrangement is quite different from the previous 19.
I wish I could say that this CD is for everyone but in reality it is for fans of the film series and chamber music listeners. I wish more people would embrace the idea of this type of arrangement/ recording as explained by Redfield in the liner notes. Give it a try and you might be pleasantly surprised.
BSXCD 8900 CD#
1… Bella’s Lullaby (2:21)
2… Phascination Phase (2:00)
3… I Dreamt of Edward (1:09)
4… The Lion Fell in Love With The Lamb (3:20)
5… I Would Be The Meal (1:25)
6… Stuck Here Like Mom (1:42)
7… In Place Of Someone You Love (1:14)
8… Dinner With The Family/Edward At Her Bed (1:49)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON
9… The Meadow : Theme from The Twilight Saga: New Moon (4:30)
10… New Moon (3:24)
11… I Need You (1:43)
12…Volturi Waltz (2:57)
13… You’re Alive/Memories of Edward (4:29)
14… Adrenaline (3:11)
15… Marry Me Bella (4:00)
16… Full Moon (3:22)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE
17… Jacob’s Theme- Instrumental (2:37)
18… Wedding Plans (3:08)
19… Finale (Jacob’s Theme Reprise) (2:39)
BONUS TRACK TWILIGHT
20… Bella’s Lullaby (How Bella Got Her Groove Back) (3:51)
Total Time is 55:26
December 14, 2011
This very very special release from Kritzerland (KR 20020-5) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was brand new to me and had absolutely no experience with the film or the music. My favorite films in 1968 were Bullitt, The Odd Couple, and The Planet of the Apes. The Lalo Schifrin score was the coolest thing I’d heard in jazz for a soundtrack, ever. My love for Neal Hefti grew even further when I heard his fabulous theme and it didn’t take very long for my swing ensemble at school to come up with an arrangement. I always thought that the film starred Julie Andrews and had no idea the CCBB was a special car. Talk about an example of being clueless. To be fair I’ve never seen Funny Girl, another popular release in 1968. At this point in my musical development I was hard at work studying the orchestrations of Rimsky-Korsakov.
It is hard to imagine that this story came from the pen of Ian Fleming, something he wrote for his children and ended up being sold in a package to Broccoli the producer, who was primarily interested in the Bond stories but quickly saw the potential in a film which ended up starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Benny Hill, and Gert ‘Goldfinger’ Frobe. Shot on 70mm film with a budget in excess of 10 million dollars even the fine writing team of the Sherman Brothers who had recently completed the huge success Mary Poppins couldn’t save this film. There were just too many musicals in too short a period of time.
There have been several releases of this recording over the years but none come close to matching all of the available material that this Kritzerland release has come up with. The audio quality ranges from excellent stereo to adequate mono but all listenable material. The purpose was to try and make all of the material available and that goal was achieved. My favorite section is the Richard Sherman demos on the second CD where it is just the ivory and composer singing the wonderful vivacious uplifting melodies. There seemed to be a nice personal touch to these tracks that make the music even more inviting.
The soundtrack was limited to 1200 copies and quickly sold out. However it would certainly be worth your time to check out other distributors who might still have some stock available. It is well worth having in your collection.
Total Duration: 01:58:34
December 13, 2011
One could argue that Shostakovich was the most versatile composer of the 20th Century as his writing included opera, ballet, film, chamber, symphonic, jazz, piano preludes, plays, and easy listening much of it under the dictatorship of Stalin. He could be extremely melodic with unforgettable melodies, atonal with dissonance, irregular rhythm patterns, and use of instruments not normally associated with symphonic orchestra such as banjo and Hawaiian guitar. This Naxos release #8.555949 is a CD that doesn’t really fit into one particular category although you will find it in the classical section.
JAZZ SUITE NO. 1 (1934) was written for a jazz commission he was asked to organize for a competition in Leningrad. Dimitri chose not to give this particular piece an opus number although I’ve seen op. 38a. It was written during a particularly busy time when he was working on the film Love and Hate (1934) and after the completion of his 1st Piano concerto (op. 35) (1933). The instruments are quite an unusual combination as it is scored for (3) saxophones, (2) trumpets, trombone, double bass, piano, violin, Hawaiian guitar, banjo, snare drum, xylophone, and misc. percussion. The music doesn’t fall into the jazz category but more of an easy listening category. Dimitri used this style of music for his film and theater music.
17… Waltz (2:28) begins with piano followed by trumpet, saxophone, and gypsy style violin. One is reminded of a silent film or a cartoon. This is quite a busy orchestration with harmony coming from all instruments.
18…Polka (1:35) starts off with trumpets, xylophone, and tenor saxophone in a comical arrangement.
19… Foxtrot (4:12) is a very danceable easy listening track that features alto saxophone, trombone, Hawaiian guitar, xylophone, and violin. Each instrument is allowed to solo while the others offer their own lines.
SUITE FOR VARIETY ORCHESTRA (post 1956) for variety orchestra in 8 movements is often misidentified as the JAZZ SUITE NO. 2 which were written for a newly formed jazz orchestra conducted by Victor Knushevitsky in 1938 and lost during World War II. A piano score of the work was discovered in 1999 and a three movement re-construction was done by Gerald McBurney and performed in 2000. Five of the movements came from previously released material: The Adventures of Korzinkina (1940), The Gadfly (1955), and The First Echelon (1956). No historical material seems available as to when, how, and why this suite came into existence. Instructions given are that the eight movements may be played in any order.
9… I March (3:07) is a lively, bright, and up-tempo march with an excellent melody, counterpoint, and harmony. Its origin is from The Adventures of Korzinkina (1940).
10… II Lyric Waltz (2:08) a saxophone starts the track of a moderate pace waltz with solos from the saxophone and accordion. This track appears to be written for this suite.
11… III Dance (3:02) (folk feast, national holiday) offers a festive piece, very Shostakovich which features some nice clarinet work. The pace is lively like Capriccio Italian and could very well have been the template that Dimitri used for this cue.
12… IV Waltz 1 (2:46) is a very Tchaikovsky sounding track with some nice saxophone work that also appears to have been written for this suite.
13… V Little Polka (1:51) another original track for this suite is frantic paced featuring some xylophone work.
14… VI Waltz No. 2 (3:12) begins with a sax solo which are joined by two others in a standard waltz. The melody is also carried by the strings and trombone. It is this waltz that Stanley Kubrick used in his film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and the BBC in the Nero Wolfe series, two of many times this melody has been used. It originally came from the film The First Echelon (1956).
15…VII Dance (2:14) first appeared in the Bolt (1930) and is a very traditional
16… VIII Finale (1:52) from The Adventures of Korzinkina (1940) is a happy melody lively and bright with a very busy section; a perfect ending to this suite.
20… Tahiti-Trot (1928) (4:04) (Tea for Two) op. 16 was an original composition from Vincent Youman’s No No Nanette. Elizabeth Wilson in her fine book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered the following story. “It was in Malko’s house that Shostakovich met Sollertinsky and there, as a consequence of a bet, he transcribed and orchestrated in 40 minutes flat Tea for Two.” The short length of time it took him to orchestrate this shows the incredible talent of the 22 year old composer. I’ve included the track for your listening pleasure. 16 – tahiti trot
The Bolt (1929) a ballet, deals with workers being fired for drinking on the job which results in, a plot to destroy the lathe with a bolt, and the young communists saving the day. The ballet was a flop lasting only a single performance and was subsequently banned by Stalin. “…This tendency was harmful for Soviet music and was seen at its clearest and fullest in the works of Shostakovich who at the beginning of the thirties wrote several ballets (The Golden Age, The Bolt, The Limpid Stream) which distorted Soviet reality…” wrote Yakubov in Chandos liner notes. As a result Shostakovich recycled some of the material into other works. The ballet which is available complete on Chandos The work is filled with Russian influence and is full of complex harmony. It is a witty Shostakovich who wasn’t afraid of experimenting with something new and unusual, making the material quite refreshing.
1… Overture ( introduction) (5:05) opens with snare drum and a brass fanfare leading the listener to a somewhat classical period sounding section with strings offering melody and counterpoint. The mood changes to a dark section filled with ominous chords.
2… The Bureaucrat (Polka) (2:42) offers a wonderful satirical section with piccolo and bassoon being answered by a comedic trombone. This short track tells the story of the people in charge and how they’re viewed by the workers.
3… The Dance of the Drayman (variations) (1:53) is jovial also telling a story with strings playing a Russian theme which is enhanced with a mocking sliding trombone. The melody is very heavy and stoic sounding.
4… Kozelkov’s Dance with Friends (tango) (5:21) runs the gamut from bawdry to a quick galop to very Slavic to party time. This is a great tango that I’m surprised is not played a lot more often.
5… Intermezzo (3:41) sounds very much like a track that could accompany a silent film scene. There is an air of mocking about it.
6… The Dance of the Colonial Slave Girl (The Appeaser) (3:10) begins as an adagio with a sad bassoon offering the melody and harmony coming from the strings. The clarinet follows also somewhat sad and the pace quickens with urgency from the strings. The track returns to the bassoon along with a sad note.
7… The Concilator (the appeaser) (3:10) offers a wonderful xylophone solo with help from the bassoon. It changes gears with a stoic statement from the brass offering melody and harmony. It ends as it began with the xylophone.
8… General Dance and Apotheosis (3:28) a patriotic solo from the saxophone begins this final track. The trombones are featured with the entire orchestra in this majestic piece as it ends with a loud crescendo.
Yablonsky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra performs these works as well as I’ve ever heard. The orchestra is quite familiar with the material and their excitement comes across loud and clear. The digital recording is crystal clear with plenty of ambience.
Naxos CD# is 8.555949
December 10, 2011
Among the many projects that the busy Seattle Symphony Orchestra has taken on is the recording of Rimsky-Korsakov material for Naxos, a welcome addition to their ever growing catalog. Their first offering was well received especially the vibrant violin reading of concertmaster Maria Larionoff in the showcase orchestral work of Scheherazade, Op. 35., the work he is most remembered for. Available on CD# 8.572693 it shares the spotlight with his The Tale of Tsar Saltan (Suite), Op. 57, which includes the melody “Flight of the Bumblebee” The violin performance is just icing on the cake as the leadership of Gerard Schwarz, digital recording and orchestral performance, along with the acoustic environment of Benaroya Hall all contribute to an extremely high quality effort. Schwarz and his Seattle Symphony truly understand how to play Russian material and specifically the work of Rimsky-Korsakov.
This CD or digital download offering includes the orchestral material from four of his fifteen operas The Snow Maiden, Sadko, Mlada, and Le Coq d’or. The operas are all available from the Naxos catalog if you desire to explore the works further.
The Snow Maiden Capriccio C10749-51
Sadko Naxos Classical Archives 9.80931-33
Mlada Warner Music 4509-92052-2
Le Coq d’or Capriccio C10760-61
The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), based on a play by Ostrovsky of a Russian folk tale about a maiden who had snow in her veins subsequently changed by her mother giving her mortal properties, her downfall, as she falls in love and is killed by the sun when Spring arrives. This work is not to be confused with the incidental music that Tchaikovsky wrote for the play eight years earlier. For those interested a recording of the complete incidental music Tchaikovsky wrote is available from Naxos on CD# 8.553856. One can draw the conclusion that this put another conflict in the relationship that Rimsky-Korsakov had with Tchaikovsky and his bouts of depression in the 1890’s which disappeared after his death in 1893. Coincidence? The “Introduction” opens with a statement from the lower register followed by the melody being played by the woodwinds with a dark harmonic background from the strings. It eventually gives way to a proud majestic offering from the horns. There is no pause as “Dance of the Birds” introduces a second theme with fluttering flutes giving hope that winter has passed. Again there is no pause as the “Cortege” procession is majestically offered and further expanded upon in the final movement “Dance of the Clowns,” vibrant and lively with nice growling tones from the brass. The practice of this work certainly paid off in an excellent performance.
Sadko-Musical picture, Op. 5 (1869, rev. 1892) was originally composed as an orchestral tone poem the first written in Russia and had nothing to do with his later opera Sadko (1896) part of which included “The Song of India.” This recording is the 1892 revised version that Rimsky-Korsakov did from the original 1869 version which to the best of my knowledge has no available recordings. The orchestration is superb offering vivid color and tone as the sea is depicted quite well with parts of turmoil as well as calmness. Few could compose for a story like Rimsky-Korsakov could and the Seattle Symphony offers a fine reading of this musical picture with depth and clarity difficult to match on other recordings.
Mlada Suite (1889-1890) began as a joint effort with Borodin, Cui, Moussorgsky, and Minkus in 1872. While the group abandoned the project Rimsky-Korsakov returned to it 18 years later and completed it. Mlada is a spiritual being having been killed on her wedding day. The complicated triangle features folk dance material from Russia, Lithuaniana, and India. The clarinet and flute open the “Introduction” calling back and forth to one another until the strings offer a lush version of the theme. This orchestral idea is repeated. “Redowa,” is a dance full of vim and vigor that begins with woodwinds offering the melody with harmony provided by the horns. The dance slowly builds in intensity to a rousing conclusion. The string playing is rich, horns crisp, and clarinet distinct and clear. “Lithuanian Dance” is a somewhat busy sounding track with all the orchestral sections contributing to the frantic pace. “Indian Dance” offers the listener the sound of the mysterious orient featuring the clarinet and flute in a style similar to Scheherazade, a trademark of Rimsky-Korsakov. The constant snare drum enhances the orchestration. The final movement is the “Cortege” very proud and majestic with the horns leading the orchestration complimented by the strings. The melody is a memorable one and the color of the arrangement is very typical Rimsky-Korsakov.
Le Coq d’or the last opera he wrote met with the disapproval of the Tsar who felt it was an attack on how he was handling the war with Japan. The opera is based on a poem by Pushkin which tells the story of a magical golden cockerel who crows at the sign of danger. The longest of the four suites at 28 minutes it is written as an exotic oriental suite filled with wonderful melodies. Again one can be reminded of his Scheherazade masterpiece. The opening theme is one that will linger with you for a long time as it begins with the cockerel theme from the trumpets as a fanfare and immediately turns to an air of oriental mystery. The second theme is filled with mystery and intrigue. The third is romantic with strings being given center stage complimented by the woodwinds. The final movement is one of tension as we hear the trumpet fanfare again from the trumpets this time a secondary one. The movement ends in a rousing orchestral display of brass motifs offering the ear the full color and texture of what was a trademark for Rimsky-Korsakov.
Over the past 50 years I’ve heard these works a great number of times from a lot of different orchestras. While much of this material might be new to you I took an instant liking to Rimsky-Korsakov the very first time I heard him and have always enjoyed his orchestrating, and thematic material. It is highly accessible for the average listener and this recording is on par with the best I’ve heard over the years. Who knows that you might want to sample one of his fifteen operas?
SUITE FROM THE SNOW MAIDEN (1880-1881)
1… Introduction (4:46)
2… Dance of the Birds (2:45)
3… Cortege (1:25)
4… Dance of the Clowns (3:38)
5… SADKO – MUSICAL PICTURE, OP.5 (1869, REV. 1892) (10:53)
SUITE FROM MLADA (1889-90)
6… Introduction (3:19)
7… Redowa (3:57)
8… Lithuainian Dance (2:01)
9… Indian Dance (4:14)
10… Cortege (4:53)
SUITE FROM LE COQ D’OR (1907)
11… King Dodon in his Palace (10:10)
12… King Dodon on the Battlefield (5:40)
13… King Dodon with Queen Shemakhan (6:32)
14… Marriage Feast and Lamentable End of King Dodon (5:51)
Total Time is 70:04
Gerard Schwarz conducts the Seattle Symphony Orchestra