This is an impressive Scheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov in full scenic and scoring mastery – save for various changes made by Sascha Goetzel and Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra: an oud has a solo spot on track 2 as a prelude to the second movement, and there is a Qanun in place to preface the finale. These additions, while pertinent in some respects (and explained by Goetzel in the booklet), ultimately seem rather pointless and the doing of something for the sake of it. The tracks can be left out, and if the use of Turkish and Arabian percussion that Goetzel mentions cannot, this is more intrinsic. I am less than certain by the mandolin-like harp in the first movement, and later: it’s either an inferior instrument or further “local colour”. The doubts are magnified given the general excellence of this performance, powerful, colourful, dramatic, scintillating and beautifully phrased, played with commitment and conducted with imagination. Seductive violin solos come from Pelin Halkaci Alkin. Reservations aside, there is much to enjoy and admire, and the recorded sound is of audiophile quality.
Balakirev’s piano piece, Islamey, a real finger-breaker, is heard in Lyapunov’s lucid and sympathetic orchestration, which is preferable to the brilliant if over-busy one by Casella (and there is a version for chamber orchestra by Iain Farrington). Goetzel paces it well, not rushing the faster music (saving something for the accelerating coda) and easing into the languid middle section easefully and where the harp sounds like a harp! (The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra plays at the BBC Proms this year, on July 29, and opens the concert with Islamey.)
Following Islamey are two movements from Mikhail’s Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches, music that has almost fallen from view these days, which is a shame. The cor anglais solo that normally graces ‘In a Village’ is here taken by a Ney flute and the whole is evocative, and ‘Procession of the Sardar’ goes with a swing and a roof-raising finish: an encore for the Proms, perchance. Finally, Köçekçe by Ulvi Cemak Erkin (1906-72), ten minutes of fun and games – with rhythmic bite, oriental melodies, big-screen orchestration and many changes of tempo and mood. Pun alert: this is a Turkish Delight of a disc!