Originally inscribed 2 April and 24 May 1984, these performances of the eminently melodic music of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operatic suites enjoy a rich, idiomatic sonic patina, typical of the high-standard work Neeme Jarvi consistently exacts. The Estonian conductor impressed me mightily in my one encounter with his athletic manner in Atlanta. His traversal of these endearing musical portraits from Russian myth and legend had my recalling my first impressions of the various music: the May Night by Albert Coates; the Tsar Saltan by Issay Dobrowen; Le Coq d’or by Markevitch and Beecham; the Battle of Kershenetz by Koussevitzky; even the old Czech LP of the Kitezh Suite by Vaclav Smetacek. For sheer audio pleasure and stately, incisive sound, nevertheless, you must travel far to surpass what the Scottish National Orchestra achieves with Jarvi and engineers Brian and Ralph Couzens.
Ever the master of instrumental colors, Rimsky-Korsakov borrows from natural and mythical sources for his sound effects: witness the Dance of the Birds from The Snow Maiden and the Ballet of the Stars from Christmas Eve. Perhaps the apex of natural evocation occurs in A Hymn to Nature that opens the Kitezh Suite, whose beauties first awed me under Mravinsky in a 1949 Melodiya inscription. Military pomp and aristocratic vanity play no less a role in these character studies, as in the Procession of the Nobles from Mlada and all of Dodon‚s music from The Golden Cockerel. The rest of the music appeals to our sense of magic, and the triangle part (and tambourine) often figures high in the color schemes. The Indian Dance from Mlada appeals to our love of Tchaikovsky and Grieg by way of Rimsky-Korsakov’s own Scheherazade. The Dance of the Tumblers would likely not exist except for Smetana. Mlada is rife with national dances, just according to Balakirev’s lights by way of Glinka. The influence of Wagner becomes quite pronounced here, likely from Meistersinger; as it does in The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, where the Forest Murmurs is echoed, and the Magic Fire Music is copied almost note-for-note. The virtuosity of the Scottish National Orchestra wind, brass, string and tympani players is superb, as it must be for the Lithuanian Dance from Mlada, the Procession of the Nobles, and for the punishing trumpet parts in Tsar Saltan finale. Listening, savoring every cut from these two precious discs, I am bewildered as to why a supreme colorist like Stokowski did not record more of this music. I leave it your discretion to indulge your ears in the enduring pleasures of this rewarding set.
— Gary Lemco