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A modern-styled Sheherazade,
This review is from: Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade (Audio CD)
Having heard the Kirov Orchestra play Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade several times live, during performances of the famous ballet version by Mikhail Fokine, I was quite surprised when I first listened to this CD. True, on most of these occasions the orchestra wasn't conducted by Valery Gergiev and although there is no doubt that the Kirov musicians have this music very much in their blood, this new recording won't go down as their greatest achievement.
With his unleashed, unpredictable tempi and heavy, unsubtle accents, and not helped by too much artificial reverberation obscuring instrumental detail, Valery Gergiev, whom we have heard more inspired than here, opts for an extremely rough, no-nonsense re-telling of Rimsky's ever-popular score. He seems to deny his Sheherazade every ounce of charm, poetry and sensuality, portraying a woman more likely to have spent some time in a brutal Chechnian camp than one who wallowed in the refined colours and perfumes of the Bagdad fantasized by Rimsky-Korsakov. Moreover, Gergiev doesn't avoid the pitfall of highlighting too many details of the orchestration - and true, at times he reveals unheard passages, as in the third movement - at the cost of losing grip of the overall structure. The frenzied tempo in which he attacks the last movement not only puts his orchestra in trouble, it also makes him miss the big final climax.
The orchestra's solos, the first violin from concert master Sergei Levitin to begin with, are undoubtedly commendable, but in this recording they definitely do not sound as the most sophisticated around. As is obvious from older recordings, the Kirov woodwinds surely have a lot more in store.
The short fillings from Borodin and Balakirev are much in the same vein.
In short, a modern-styled Sheherazade and it all depends of how you want your harem favourite to appear, but other conductors (among others Kirill Kondrashin, still unequalled for the dramatic sweep, Fritz Reiner for the sophistication of the orchestration) have given more complete and fascinating images of this wonderful work.