Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh:
Night on Mount Triglav
Mikhail Pletnev, cond; Russian Natl O
class="ARIAL12"> PENTATONE 5186362 (SACD: 60:32)
Take away Rimsky-Korsakov’s big three—
Scheherazade, Capriccio espagnole
Russian Easter Overture
—plus the 243 permutations of
The Flight of the Bumblebee
, and well over half of ArkivMusic’s listings for his music—and I venture to guess most of the non-Russian performances—would disappear. When one considers the many achievements of this influential composer—Debussy, Ravel, and early Stravinsky, just to name three, are unthinkable without Rimsky-Korsakov’s lead—it is sad that so much of his recorded legacy focuses on those four works and a few pops-concert opera extracts. This makes a release like this one of immediate interest, containing, as it does, a broader selection of orchestral excerpts from three of his 16 operas—the focal point of his creative energy and the true locus of his finest work—played by one of the leading orchestras in Russia, conducted by its talented founder and artistic director, Mikhail Pletnev, and recorded for SACD by the superlative PentaTone engineers.
Indeed, it turns out to be almost everything one could hope for. There have been two wonderful surveys of the more obscure corners of the composer’s orchestral oeuvre: the classic exploration of the operatic suites by Neeme Järvi and the Royal Scottish Orchestra on Chandos (there are also excellent symphony recordings on DG), and an even finer set of four discs produced by BIS. The BIS, with the excellent Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kees Bakels, presents the favored three, but also his symphonies, a piano concerto, the tone poem
—his other great sea evocation besides
—and several suites and overtures. Pletnev’s current disc is a worthy addition to this company. He had earlier given us a rather over-slick rendition of the suite from
Le Coq d’or
on DG (out of print). As in that release, the tempos here are generally lively, but there is less sense of speed for speed’s sake and far more willingness to luxuriate in the sensuous pleasures of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orientalism. Pletnev’s occasional reluctance to linger does undermine the atmosphere of the composer’s first-movement evocation of spring in the suite from
The Snow Maiden
, especially when compared with Järvi’s or Bakels’s traversals, but the quicker tempo in the “Death of Fevroniya” from
The Invisible City of Kitezh
avoids Järvi’s languor. It is, however,
Night on Mount Triglav
, essentially act III of the
Ring des Nibelungen
without vocal parts, that is the major attraction here. It is an excellent example of the ever-questing Rimsky-Korsakov experimenting even at the height of his career, and Pletnev’s sensuous, perfectly paced performance is superior in sound and execution to the only other readily available version, the lethargic Golovchin on Naxos.
I also admire the Ernest Ansermet/Suisse Romande performances immoderately—when will someone else record the choral version of “Dance of the Birds” with its striking similarity to John Adams’s “The Red Detachment of Women” ballet from
Nixon in China
?—but the edgy sound accorded Ansermet’s Geneva band does not always do the exotic colors justice. The Decca remastering—and the more recent Australian Eloquence reissue—have mitigated this early
trait, but the high strings still sound rather desiccated. There are no such concerns about the sound of this release. The orchestra is caught realistically in the warm acoustic of the hall in Hilversum, with nice detail and space in all of the layers, and only a touch of excess bass reverberance in the stereo tracks. The Russian National Orchestra is the antithesis of the Soviet-era orchestra, but still has that trumpet-forward brass sound that adds excitement to many a Russian work. Occasionally I could have wished for a bit more lower-brass abandon, but that and the bass definition are minor issues in what is a highly recommendable release.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
What's not to like? The music is gorgeously tuneful and atmospheric, the orchestration amazing, the playing excellent, the sonics vibrant. Pletnev's crisp briskness works quite well in music that thrives on rhythmic precision, elegance, and immaculate phrasing. His Dance of the Tumblers has just the right combination of energy and accuracy. The Tartar Invasion and Battle of Kershenets in the Kitezh Suite certainly don't sound inhibited, and its concluding, bell-laden apotheosis is resplendent. It's also great to have a new recording of the Night on Mount Triglav, which is basically the third act of Mlada without the vocal parts. Stravinsky shamelessly plagiarized the "Ronde infernale" for the eponymous dance in The Firebird, while the remainder of the piece contains some of Rimsky's most sensuous orchestration, which is saying a lot. An irresistible disc, then, that would grace any collection.
– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Snow Maiden: Suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Russian National Orchestra
Written: 1880/1895; Russia
Night on mount Triglav by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Russian National Orchestra
Written: 1899-1901; Russia
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