Edge-of-the-seat playing in a weighty, powerful Scheherazade from St Petersburg.
Recorded under live conditions but without an audience in St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, this Scheherazade is the most red-blooded, exciting account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral warhorse that I know, helped by full, immediate sound of a richness rare in Russian recordings. It is a measure of Gergiev’s success that even in direct comparison with the three classic recordings I have listed, as well as the fine Jansons version, Gergiev conveys an electricity of even higher voltage.
Reiner has long provided a benchmark account, but the extra thrust of the new performance hits even harder, culminating in the final climax ofRead more the fourth movement, where the fortissimo return of the motto theme on trombones is even more overwhelming, with the extra thrust virtually impossible to achieve under ordinary studio conditions (6'49" into track 4).
The magnetism is established from the start, with Gergiev completely dispelling the feeling that this is a work which keeps stopping and starting too often for its own good. Consistently you register that these are players who have the music in their blood, with rubato naturally inflected. In expressive freedom Gergiev is often less extreme than Reiner or Karajan, as in the quasi recitando bassoon solo near the start of the second movement or the espressivo oboe solo which follows, in which Gergiev notes also the a tempo marking, keeping it steady.
The virtuosity of the St Petersburg soloists is also a ready match for even that of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its heyday, whether woodwind, brass or strings, with an edge-of-seat tension conveyed, particularly when Gergiev opts for challengingly fast speeds in the climactic passages of the second and fourth movements.
This is a work which Rimsky-Korsakov wrote over only a few weeks, and far more than usual this is a performance that, defying the many changes of tempo, conveys that urgency of inspiration. Yet Gergiev brings out points of detail in the brilliant instrumentation normally bypassed, as in the upward glissando for the cellos in the opening section of the third movement (3'41" into track 3), either ignored or merely hinted at by others.
There remain two points that might be counted controversial. Gergiev’s tempo for that opening section of the third movement, ‘The Young Prince and Princess’, is markedly slower than with the others, less delicate than with Beecham, and with Gergiev following Karajan in bringing out the resonance of violin tone rather than the dynamic marking of piano. Yet in context Gergiev conjures extra contrast with the other movements.
The other controversial point is that though the recorded sound has spectacular weight and power over the widest range, it is clear that reverberation has been added to a recording made in a relatively dry theatre acoustic. Happily, it does not get in the way of orchestral detail. It is more obtrusive in the two attractive fill-ups – Lyapunov’s arrangement of Balakirev’s piano showpiece sounds almost like an extra movement of Scheherazade. Both performance and recording, whatever the acoustic juggling, have a power that pins you back in your seat, making this a demonstration disc in every way.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [11/2002] Read less
Works on This Recording
Scheherazade, Op. 35by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Performer:
Sergei Levitin (Violin)
Kirov Theater Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1888; Russia Date of Recording: 11/2001 Venue: Mariinsky Theater, St Petersburg, Russia Length: 45 Minutes 51 Secs.
In the steppes of central Asiaby Alexander Borodin Conductor:
Kirov Theater Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1880; Russia Date of Recording: 11/2001 Venue: Mariinsky Theater, St Petersburg, Russia Length: 7 Minutes 46 Secs.
Oriental Fantasy for Piano, Op. 18 "Islamey"by Mily Balakirev Conductor:
Kirov Theater Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1869/1902; Russia Date of Recording: 11/2001 Venue: Mariinsky Theater, St Petersburg, Russia Length: 8 Minutes 27 Secs. Notes: Arranged: Lyapunov
Average Customer Review: ( 6 Customer Reviews )
Lush, lusty, passionate performanceApril 26, 2016By Ronald H. (Bellevue, WA)See All My Reviews"The reading of Scheherazade is exactly what i was hoping for -- I've listened to it several times already. The "Steppes of Central Asia" is also quite good but, in my opinion, not as strong a composition. The third selection is a bit bland for my taste, especially in the company of the Scheherazade."Report Abuse
Great Performance, Miserable RecordingOctober 25, 2015By Robert Garrett (Altadena, CA)See All My Reviews"First let me say that this is, with a few nit-pick exceptions, a great performance with a great violin soloist. I just wish it weren't ruined for the most part by an overly processed recording, specifically: As mentioned in a previous review, reverb was added. Not bad in itself, but in this case the reverb was poured on in vast quantities, and of a type which is basically counter to the orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov went to great pains to make his orchestration transparent (I've read his orchestration text). He took great pains to make sure that every instrument was heard, and heard properly. But the subtle nature of his work is totally obscured by the very, very heavy handed reverb which has been added. The sound picture is such that it sounds like we're hearing the performance from somewhere in the lobby. Also, out of curiosity I loaded the tracks from the CD into my digital audio workstation to see if I could do something....anything... to clean up the sonic mess, and I was shocked to see what is apparently the use of electronic limiting of dynamic range by one of the look-ahead type limiters so popular today to squash out any and all life from the sound of the music. The result is mush, which is compounded by the heavy handed use of reverb. On top of all this, there is generally a lack of presence in the high and low ends of the frequency spectrum - a problem exasperated by the two problems outlined above. Let me say straight forward that I generally do not take the time to voice my opinions on recordings I purchase, as I have far too limited time. But in this case, I simply had to say something. I sincerely hope that someone...anyone... at the Emil Berliner Studios, where this recording was processed will read this and take it to heart. Recordings are all about serving MUSIC. If a recording does not sound like real, honest musical instruments, in a real, honest acoustic environment, what's the point? We are all wasting our money, our time, and NOT SERVING THE MUSIC. Mercury Living Presence recordings in the early 60s did most of this right. There was almost no sonic manipulation, and the music was all the better for it. They took the time to place the _THREE_ microphones carefully in order to capture a convincing and true musical and acoustic balance. I really wish the current generation of Sound Engineers would learn some of these lessons. End of Rant. PS: This is really a great performance....musically...."Report Abuse
Audio quality is lackingAugust 26, 2014By RAYMOND F. (Belfast, NY)See All My Reviews"I have to agree with the other reviewer who criticized the audio quality of this recording. I am having trouble appreciating or judging the quality of the performance because of the poor quality of the sound. By the way, the Arkiv Music website says that this is on the Philips label, but it is really Decca."Report Abuse