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RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  SCHEHERAZADE August 13 2015, 0 Comments

Composed and first performed in 1888 by the 44 year old Rimsky-Korsakov, this brilliant symphonic suite was an immediate success and is one of the most frequently recorded works in the orchestral repertoire. Described by the composer as an ‘Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders’ it casts a spell that beguiles and excites the listener with memorable tunes, vividly and dramatically orchestrated.

I was bowled over by this work when I first heard it in the concert hall many years ago and have sought out as many LP versions of the piece as I can find. I try to justify the acquisition of so many different recordings of the same work with the excuse that (a) it is one of my favourites, (b) I like to hear different interpretations and (c) being an audiophile, I need to keep abreast of the latest  sonic improvements the new technology has to offer. These arguments have never convinced my wife – “you can only play one at a time” and she also thinks my loudspeakers are too big because “they stick out into the room too much”. Even so, they are still worth standing a pot plant on.

Although Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol are probably Rimsky’s best known works, I would recommend his Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888), a colourful and dramatic piece that lasts about 15 minutes. Among many distinguished recordings, my favourite performance of this work is by Charles Munch / FNRO (1966). The orchestral suites on themes from his operas are very rewarding and contain much fine music (3LP box set on Chandos by Jarvi / SNO) and, for opera lovers, I would recommend tenors Sergei Lemshev or Ivan Kozlovsky singing Levko’s aria ‘Sleep my beauty’ from ‘May Night’.

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