LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Sheherazade; Procession of the Nobles from Mlada; The Poem of Ecstasy
PERFORMER: LSO, USSR State SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4121-2 ADD
The late, much-lamented Svetlanov invariably headed straight for the characterful essence of the piece in question. The noble processional of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada, a brisk call-to-arms judiciously included for the LSO’s share of this disc, usually glides along as a smooth, tsarist crown imperial; here, brusque side-drum strokes and rough fanfares proclaim a pagan ritual. Sultan Shahriar’s command at the start of Sheherazade is majestic but not (yet) brutal; his story-teller’s soothing violin solo follows with three magically differentiated and varyingly spread chords from the harp – the peremptory first chord underlining that she, too, has metal to match. Despite pockets of femininity such as the spacious flute solo after all the second-movement storm and stress, Svetlanov’s is essentially a masculine Sheherazade, in sometimes rough but always compelling contrast to the sinuousness of the classic Beecham interpretation. Sinbad’s ship cuts through clearly charted waters and the young prince and princess flex their muscles with a touch of narcissism.
Svetlanov’s reading of Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy moves us from suitably dry Royal Festival Hall sound dating from 1978 to the muddier waters of the Royal Albert Hall a decade earlier, and from the LSO to the USSR State Symphony Orchestra which the conductor was then still moulding to his own imperious will. The Russian first trumpet – briefly emulated in flagrant vibrato by his LSO counterpart as Rimsky-Korsakov breasts the waves – plays brazen ringmaster to Scriabin’s celestial circus, which finally resounds with the music of the spheres after an audacious, unmarked pause. And if Svetlanov’s impetuous drive sometimes loses focus, sound-wise, it’s a vast improvement on his Melodiya studio version. David Nice