Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade; Tsar Saltan Suite

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Sheherazade; Tsar Saltan Suite
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-91717-2 DDD
This is the Orient seen through the eyes of a sea-faring adventurer from 19th-century imperial Russia. It is of epic proportions, melodically robust, and lavishly scored. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance is stunning. Barenboim has painted a large and ecstatic canvas in which no detail is overlooked. The violin solos are sensuously shaded but meticulously executed, the arabesques of woodwind colour in the third movement sing with a deft precision against tremulous strings. The climaxes are thunderous.

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Sheherazade tends to be thought of as a popular orchestral showpiece. On this disc, Barenboim has given it genuine symphonic stature. He stretches the pauses and fills them with febrile tension, his tempi are slow, but not lugubrious. For all its exoticism, few performers would risk trying to prove that Sheherazade has the profundity to sustain such painstaking exposition.It is a gamble that has paid off.

The Philharmonia under Bátiz play on safe ground. With near-standard tempi, their version is over six minutes shorter than Barenboim’s folie de grandeur. With few concessions to subtlety or introspection, this is a carefree (and often careless) romp that is probably much closer to the Sheherazade you know and love.

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Both discs include the suite from the opera Tsar Saltan as a filler. This is pleasantly rumbustious music that does not – in case of disappointment – include the Flight of the Bumble Bee. Christopher Lambton