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A new gold standard for these two works.,
This review is from: Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade (Audio CD)
Does the music-buying public need yet another recording of Scheherazade? The short answer is a resounding "yes!" when it is performed this well, coupled with Rimsky-Korsakov's Great Russian Easter Overture as it is here, with state-of-the-art sound quality for which Reference Recordings is justly famous. Even though a quick search at Amazon.com turns up over eighty available recordings which include Scheherazade, or some portion of it. So some explanation is in order.
José Serebrier, early in his career, was Leopold Stokowski's assistant. Both of these pieces were recorded several times by Stokowski. (Stokowski recorded Scheherazade six times, and provided an astonishing recording of the Great Russian Easter Overture late in his career, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on RCA Victor, coupled with the world premiere recording of Khatchaturian's Symphony No. 3.) So it is perhaps only natural that Serebrier would eventually turn to these two pieces to add to his own recordings posterity.
The booklet notes by Serebrier set out in detail his efforts to arrive at an authoritative performance of Scheherazade, including not only review of all of Stokowski's recordings but those of such stalwarts of Scheherazade performances as Ansermet, Beecham, Bernstein, Monteux and Reiner. Then, working with the London Philharmonic orchestral score, obviously a palimpsest of accumulated markings by other conductors over the years, he "scrubbed clean" the score and the instrument parts to arrive at a clean sheet, a "tabula rasa," as the basis for this performance. The result is a Scheherazade that is faithful to the original intentions of Rimsky-Korsakov, right down to every detail of orchestration, tempi and dynamics. (Rimsky-Korsakov was a master at orchestration, even to the extent of writing a classic two-volume treatise on the subject, and conductors who fool with his markings do so at their own peril.) The final result is a performance of brilliant execution and clearly-articulated detail, with sound quality to match.
In contrast to the spinning out of numerous themes for setting out the Scheherazade tale in musical terms, Rimsky-Korsakov's Great Russian Easter Overture is almost "minimalist" in its thematic simplicity. And that is part of its fascination: the ability to craft a fifteen-minute tone poem of obvious allure and listener interest using only a simple theme that is repeated, with variations in orchestration and key, almost throughout. Its very simplicity is its biggest challenge for successfully performing it. Heretofore, Stokowski's performance with the Chicago Symphony had been my personal "gold standard." But it has now been replaced by this new Serebrier performance, which closely mirrors the Stokowski performance approach and values but has infinitely superior recorded sound.
Reference Recordings, the pride and joy of Professor Keith Johnson, has probably never released a recording whose sound quality is less than outstanding. And this recording of Scheherazade and The Great Russian Easter Overture goes to the top of Professor Johnson's class, for both Serebrier's performances and for the stunning sound qualities.