Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 25 & 26 April 2010 in Henry Wood Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2010
CD No: ONYX 4064
Duration: 61 minutes
This is Charles Dutoit’s first recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as its artistic director. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is hardly an original choice of music (and Dutoit has recorded it before, in Montreal) – and there have probably been hundreds of such documents of it since Thomas Edison gave us the recording bug. Nevertheless, this is a fine and enjoyable performance played with evident enthusiasm and spontaneity, Dutoit’s grunts adding to a sense of concert play-through, and in what seems a minimally edited production some studio noises are allowed to remain. The gap between the second and third movements is too short, although the attaccas between (i)-(ii) and (iii)-(iv) are well-made and indeed appear to be ‘as was’.
Overall, Scheherazade is here given a lively and colourful performance, the RPO doing a notable job for its new conductor, the musicians producing lustrous and sonorous sounds and with some excellent solos being the icing on the orchestral cake, not least from Clio Gould, her violin contributions suggesting a winsome, capricious, impassioned and feisty story-teller. If Dutoit can let brass dominate (trombones especially), and the ultimate in pianissimo is rarely achieved, he is very successful at not distorting or exaggerating the line, the music unfolding naturally rather than being pulled around; nowhere is this better exampled than in ‘The Young Prince and Princess’, which has had no end of indignities heaped upon it, yet even here the quietest of pianissimos are rarely to be heard. Greater subtlety is achievable in even the most vibrant of passages, too, but there’s no doubting the vividness of it all, and the conviction with which it is put across.
What a delicious score Scheherazade is when left to its own devices but cared for with musical judgment rather than with an eye or more on showmanship – as it is here by Dutoit and the RPO, who go on to give a superb performance of Russian Easter Festival Overture, full of solemn proclamations and rousing chorales. There would have been room for Capriccio espagnol, too, a triptych of consecutive opus numbers (Capriccio is 34).
The recorded sound is over-ambient; those of us who know Henry Wood Hall from the inside (as a rehearsal and recording venue) will recognise that it is not quite as immediate or indeed as ‘hard’ as in the flesh. While a little extra space to the sound could be thought desirable it also means that the loudest music becomes edgy in reproduction. Furthermore, in the first movement of Scheherazade more of the piccolo between 5’52-5’56 would have been welcome (although the instrument goes into a bit of a frenzy in the storm-tossed climax of the finale, in which though the gong barely registers) and a crisper-sounding, harder-hit side drum in this last movement would have been welcome, as would clearer timpani in Russian Easter Festival (9’16-9’30). Yet, such Beckmesser observations aside, this release reproduces a powerful chemistry between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit that beckons well for future seasons and recordings.