There have been other more recent recordings of the clever transcription by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin of themes from Bizet’s opera, but none match the sparkle, wit, and in this imported SACD the impressive sonics of this one – recorded in 1969. Not part of the RCA Living Stereo SACD series, it comes from BMG in Hong Kong but was pressed in Europe.
Fiedler rightly felt the transcription would be a crowd-pleaser at his Boston Pops concerts; it involves 47 percussion instruments plus the strings – no woodwinds, brass or harp. The orchestrations reminded me of the percussion arrangements of Harold Farberman issued by F.I.M. They present the familiar tunes from Carmen in an entirely fresh and delightful way. The big joke of the piece is the section in which only the accompaniment to The Toreodor Song is heard – no melody at all – yet one would swear you are hearing the melody, because it is so ingrained in our brains!
The fillers are also worthwhile hearing, and probably won’t duplicate anything you have in your collection. They carry on with the Russian slant – though there is little Russian to Shchedrin’s innovative Carmen arrangements. Both works were lifted from a 1968 RCA album titled “Fiedler’s Choice.” Fiedler had met both Shostakovich and Glazunov on their visits to Boston. He chose the Hamlet music for its wit and charm; it was created for an unconventional 1932 production of the play in Moscow. The overture is a rarely-heard but festive piece whose opening may remind one of Strauss’s Don Juan. Sonics on all three selections are superb in their clarity and extreme detail – especially in the subtle overtones of the various percussion instruments. Though not three-channel as most of the Living Stereo SACD series, the phantom center is very strong and gives a solid wide orchestral soundstage without any hole-in-the-middle.
– John Sunier