Rimsky-Korsakov • Balakirev

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Balakirev,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
WORKS: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Balakirev: Islamey; plus works by Erkin and Ippolitov-Ivanov
PERFORMER: Borusan Istanbul Phil/Sascha Goetzel
CATALOGUE NO: 4124

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If you doubted the need for another recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s oriental spectacular, this disc should change your mind. The Istanbul team’s playing has something of the gutsiness of the old Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra recordings under Loris Tjeknavorian, but with a greater sophistication of orchestral colour and a firm guiding hand from principal conductor Sascha Goetzel. You’ll be gripped from the first resonant trombone proclamation of bloodthirsty Sultan Shahriar right through to the final victory of his resourceful Scheherazade, leader Pelin Halkaci Akin superlative to the last. He’s even accompanied in the Sultana’s recitatives not by the usual harp, but by a Qanun, an oriental lute, played by the consummate Hakan Güngör, who slips in two pertinent short improvisations after the first and third movements. The solos in the ‘Tale of the Kalendar Prince’ are characterful, too, crowned by a magical first flautist, and the articulation of the finale’s whirl – in one of the greatest symphonic movements of its kind – would be impressive even from one of the world’s accepted top orchestras.

I didn’t really notice the discreet overlay of oriental percussion here, and I wish there had been a bit more tampering with Lyapunov’s so-so arrangement of Balakirev’s piano fantasy Islamey – Casella’s version is better. But again the substitution of a ney or oriental flute for the cor anglais in the first of the Ippolitov-Ivanov movements is inspired and the ‘Procession of the Sirdar’ swaggers, better perhaps than Turkish composer Erkin’s 1943 dance-rhapsody Kocekce. Sound is natural and rich throughout.

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David Nice