Notes and Editorial Reviews
Here it is, folks, the Antar that we've been waiting for, and hands down the best version ever put on disc--not that we've ever been especially spoiled for choice. Historically this lovely precursor to Scheherazade has suffered from the composer's own uncertainty concerning nomenclature (is it a symphony, or not?) and from the multiple revisions to which it was subjected. It also ends with a slow movement, never a good idea in terms of programming unless, as with a Strauss tone poem, you're going to make so much noise and spend so much time and call on such huge orchestral resources that no one is likely to complain.
So what makes this Antar so special? First, conductor Kees Bakels uses the best edition. This affects
the second movement particularly, as it needs all of the extra color it can get so as not to sound like a pathetic exercise in bad counterpoint. The cymbals, bass drum, and tam-tam go a long way to fleshing out what otherwise would be a very thin musical brew. Second, he simply plays the devil out of the inner movements, driving them as hard as possible and really ramming home their emotional characteristics (vengeance and power respectively) as the composer intended but that so seldom come off in performance. The outer movements have a gentle elegance and grace, allied to real forward impetus that no other performance matches. If you've been waiting to really hear how this music should sound, wait no longer. Previous excellent recordings by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra have confirmed, on disc at least, the quality of this ensemble, and the results that BIS obtains sonically are state-of-the-art, with an almost too huge dynamic range and terrific stereo imaging and presence.
Technically speaking, Scheherazade shares the same virtues as Antar, though here the competition is much stronger and Bakels does not quite come up to the level of the best. He leads a direct, swift, no-nonsense performance and there are points where a touch more indulgence and a bit more charm (as in the third movement) would have been welcome. Similarly, the march at the center of The Tale of the Kalender Prince comes across as stiff and studied rather than swaggering, and while the Festival in Baghdad and final shipwreck sound splendid, I couldn't help but want a bit more precision from those triple-tonguing brass underscored by snare drum. That said, it's still a very enjoyable performance in its own right, and as a partner to the best-ever Antar I certainly wouldn't complain. The rating, then, is a blend--but make no mistake, the Antar's a 10.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Scheherazade, Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Marcus Gundermann (Violin)
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1888; Russia
Length: 43 Minutes 14 Secs.
Symphony no 2, Op. 9 "Antar" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1868/1875; Russia
Length: 29 Minutes 38 Secs.
Scheherazade, Op. 35: I. The Sea and Sindbad´s Ship
Scheherazade, Op. 35: II. The Tale of the Kalender Prince
Scheherazade, Op. 35: III. The Young Prince and the Young Princess
Scheherazade, Op. 35: IV. Festival in Baghdad - The Sea - The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior - Conclusion
Symphony No. 2, Op. 9, "Antar": I. Largo - Allegro - Allegretto - Largo
Symphony No. 2, Op. 9, "Antar": II. Allegro
Symphony No. 2, Op. 9, "Antar": III. Allegro risoluto
Symphony No. 2, Op. 9, "Antar": IV. Allegretto - Adagio
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