RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Suite from The Snow Maiden; Sadko: Musical Picture, Op. 5; Suite from Mlada; Suite from Le Coq d’or – Seattle Symphony Orch./ Gerard Schwartz – Naxos 8.572787, 70:04 ****:
Recorded in Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington in March and April 2011, this disc brings us a happy compilation of brilliant music derived from folk and fairy tales that beguiled composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov between 1880-1907. Consistently, Schwarz and his orchestra (since 1985) produce strong, sympathetic readings that highlight the individual colors of his ensemble, particularly in the brass, winds, and harp, with bright luminosity in the Seattle strings.
The 1881 Snow Maiden Suite proves relatively light fare, the four movements combining magical effects with evocations of bird calls and concluding with the familiar Dance of the Clowns. More revelatory from Schwarz, the one-movement Sadko (1867; rev. 1892), pictures the eponymous hero asea in colors that quite beguile, the performance superior to the classic by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande. Schwartz imposes a unity of tone that congeals the musical picture into a cohesive, emotional whole.
The suite extracted from the 1890 opera Mlada offers Schwartz any number of exotic “orientalisms,” including dances from Russia, Lithuania, India, and the vivacious Procession of the Nobles, with its intricate trumpet metrics. Given our conductor’s expertise in the trumpet, little wonder that the last selection bristles with ceremonial excitement, Rimsky-Korsakov’s answer to the Entry of the Guests in Wagner’s Tannhauser.
The most familiar and musically rewarding score, the suite from his final opera Le Coq d’or (1907), has had marvelous inscriptions from Markevitch, Beecham, Svetlanov, and Neeme Jarvi. No less enchanted, the Schwartz rendition combines piquant detail in the percussion and loving sweetness from the strings, especially in the episode of King Dodon with Queen Shemakhan. Rimsky-Korsakov seems to have spliced his own, limitless invention in Scheherazade with lessons on the Asian musical culture from Balakirev and Belyayev. The sultry veils of sound produced by the Seattle Symphony throughout these sympathetic readings should seduce any votary of the Mighty Five to the temple provided by Benaroya Hall.
In celebration of 150 Years, Vaughan Williams!