This set of two CDs was originally recorded in 1993. These are generous discs with a playing time of seventy-seven and eighty minutes. Dmitri Kitajenko is not a conductor of whom I have previously had experience, but he inspires fine playing from the Bergen Philharmonic. The sound quality is excellent.
First, the three symphonies. All are the later revised editions, their dates being: 1865 (revised 1884), 1868 (1897) and 1873 (1886).
David Nice, in his sleevenotes, highlights the Schumannesque qualities of the First, qualities present from the opening bars reminiscent of the German composer's `Manfred'. The first movement is spirited and melodious although its development lacks inspiration (but Rimsky was only seventeen at the time). The second movement is clearly more Russian in feel, the composer claiming Glinka as his model. But already Rimsky shows a predilection for the seductive orchestral colour that he would make his trademark. The lively scherzo is let down by a formless trio. The finale has a Brahmsian feel.
The Second Symphony was later viewed by Rimsky more as a symphonic suite. It has literary associations with the mythological character Antar. While in four movements, they do not follow the traditional symphonic blueprint: for example, there is no formal slow movement, the first movement does not follow sonata form, and the finale is unconventional. (Where before have I heard the viola motif that comprises the second idée fixe in the first movement's introduction? It appears in all subsequent movements.) The second movement is certainly full of the vengeance it is supposed to convey, whilst the third demonstrates Rimsky's powers of counterpoint in an `allegro risoluto alla marcia'. The symphony is full of colour; its only disappointment is the anti-climatic ending.
The Third Symphony is Brahmsian. Its scherzo is too long, but the subtle but continuous shifts in the presentation of a basic four-note theme in the andante is worthy of remark, as is how this morphs into the Slavic-style finale reminiscent of Dvorak.
The CD set also features four other works: 1. a well-played `Capriccio Espagnol'; 2. Rimsky's one-movement (but still in three parts) thirteen-minute piano concerto (why is it not better known?); 3. his tone poem `Sadko', which is as orchestrally enchanting as the tale it aims to relate; and 4. a performance of the `Russian Easter Overture'.
I compare this last piece to Borodin's `In the Steppes of Central Asia', Respighi's `Roman Festivals', or even Stravinsky's `Rite of Spring'. Both Borodin and Respighi were also superb orchestrators, whilst Stravinsky was Rimsky's pupil for a time. But the music is all Rimsky, of course, as he celebrates the pagan Russian soul as much as the Christian festival. With its sharp and sudden changes of pace and volume, it could easily sound disjointed, but this performance is saved both by the composer's glittering orchestration and by the performer's dedication to making it work.
This is a great collection. There is a lot more to RK than Sheherazade. This symphony gathers together his three numbered symphonies and some other orchestral works - notably the wonderful Cappriccio Espagnole, The Easter fest, Sadko and the piano concerto. The best piece by far is his wonderful second symphony "Antar". This is a piece which has premonitions of so much later Russian music, including Rachmaninov's second symphony. It is full of lyricism and exotic harmonies. A real gem. The other two symphonies are also not bad at all. I must say that the piano concerto is perhaps the weakest piece. There is a lot of his orchestral music not here: mainly the suites from his operas and of course Sheherazade herself. Since buying this CD I have spent a lot of time listening to this music and am never bored by it, but keep seeing more in it. The performances are excellent: The Bergen Phil put in a first class effort.
Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Romantic Era music sympathetically rendered in high quality CD sound.
If you need somewhere to start appreciating music, this is highly accessible, but with lots of mileage for the more experienced listener too. Emotional depth, great range of colours and a distinctive Russian identity permeate this wonderful interpretation. And you get so much for your cash too.
This CD demonstrates how Russia has produced world class music. The piano and orchestral pieces are brilliantly played The recording is of high quality Will be very much appreciated by serious musicians and piano players alike
These symphonies are so rarely heard that the discs are something of a lucky dip, but the extras are a welcome bonus. Granted that the symphonies are not first-rank, it is good to have them available, and the performances and recording are at least adequate if not better.