Rimsky-Korsakov Orchestral Suites

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?


Track Listing:






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)




6… Introduction (3:19)


7… Redowa (3:57)


8… Lithuainian Dance (2:01)


9… Indian Dance (4:14)


10… Cortege (4:53)




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







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