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A curiosity with some interesting and attractive elements, but overall far from a top recommendation-sadly.
on 15 January 2015
The splattering of brief comments on this disc-scarcely reviews if I may observe-do not give a fair reflection of this disc.
Scheherazade has been from the earliest era of recording one of the most popular and frequently recorded works. Famous recordings from the stereo era include those by Beecham, Paul Kletzki (Gramophone Magazine First Choice for over 20 years), Stokowski Phase 4 (with extra tam-tam and more harps than Rheingold), Svetlanov, Kondrashin (RCO), Mackerras, Gergiev and the controversial Karajan-controversial because it was the work he used as an excuse to leave EMI as he didn't want to record it when they tried to "force"him to. He NEVER conducted it in the concert hall, but made a "spite" recording for DG with the BPO-the only time he performed it. It is of course predictably fabulous.
I have a great fondness for the Previn with the VPO-largely because it is the VPO!
There are dozens more choices, but if it is a sonic spectacular that is sought then Gergiev or Eji Oue with the Minnesota Orchestra on Reference HDCD will do admirably.
What this adds up to is very stiff competition for any new recording, and while I have nothing but praise for the enterprise in this case, I am not so enthusiastic about the results!
Sascha Goetzl is an up and coming young Viennese conductor, who is doing the rounds of "the repertory" orchestras if I may term them as such, gaining experience and adding to his obvious talent.
His Directorship of the very welcome Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic has been highly praised and their appearance at the London Proms in 2014 was extremely well received.
We have to judge the purely audio experience- and there are limitations.
The recording is good though at times a little harsh, and Goetzl gives a very sound performance of the main work, though some passages in the Tale of The Prince and Princess are a little pedestrian. The orchestra sounds very much like a Russian ensemble of today but without the lush string tone that usually accompanies such a band.
The brass is soupy-the low brass sound very "muddy"- the strings are numerous but a little wiry (and not always together!), the clarinet has a very thick almost saxophone like tone that I don't care for etc.- all of which detracts from the enjoyment.
On the other hand, the Concert Master is superb, delivering his solos with silverine beauty.
If this work were not exotic enough, many traditional Western instruments are replaced by Asian counterparts-quite noticeably in the case of the important harp-and there is the added attraction of exotic obligato fragments on said instruments between 3 of the movements. They are very brief and add little or nothing, but neither do they spoil anything and are separately tracked.
It was a monumental mistake to programme Balakirev's Islamey-the orchestra really is found wanting! It is always thought of as possibly the most technically difficult piano piece, and the orchestrated version is hardly less so. Strings are taxed, the sound is wiry and they are hardly together. Even the lush slow central section lacks-well, the requisite lushness!
Gergiev's Kirov (then so titled) give us the best version.
The Ippolitov-Ivanov really goes for exoticism with the flute in the opening number indulging in very Eastern decoration in what is a simple melody-it doesn't work for me, I find it irritating.
The best piece is the Erkin, not least because the orchestra is suddenly galvanised and plays out of its skin- I surmise that it is very popular in Turkey and the players respond accordingly.
The piece is really reminiscent of 1950's Epic Movies, "Full of Eastern Promise", with more than a nod to Rimsky, Enescu and Miklos Rozsa. It is 12 minutes or so of orchestral pyrotechnics and well worth a listen.
However, the whole disc is more interesting than it is rewarding in terms of recording and playing.
It is beautifully presented in a really lovely folder with good notes etc., and if curiosity is your prime reason for buying, there is some enjoyment to be had.
While I hate to be a killjoy, those seeking a superb Scheherazade would do better to look elsewhere, and first choice for modern sonics and a great performance remains Gergiev/Kirov (with Islamey).
Hopefully this orchestra and conductor will go on to greater things- I was at a superb Swan Lake under his direction in the Vienna Staatsoper in 2010 so the big 3 ballets might well suit, but once again competition is stiff. On the strength of the work presented here, I would be happy to explore Erkin's Symphonic Works and this would be the team to do it!
Meanwhile, I can only award 3 stars and a very cautious recommendation-but having said all that I am pleased to have it in my collection as a curio! Stewart Crowe.