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Operavore
WQXR (New York), December 2011

Operavore 2011 Gift Guide

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, N.A.: Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (The) (Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, 2008) (NTSC) 2.110277–78
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, N.A.: Snow Maiden Suite (The) / Sadko, Musical Picture / Mlada Suite / The Golden Cockerel Suite (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572787
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, N.A.: Scheherazade / Tale of Tsar Saltan Suite (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572693
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, N.A.: Capriccio espagnol / Overtures (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572788

Naxos is on a Russian roll this month with a double-hitter from this member of The Five. Bass Mikhail Kazakov, who made an impressive star turn in Dallas earlier this year in the title role of Boris Godunov, headlines the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, a dreamy work widely thought to be the Russian Parsifal. Also out this month on Naxos are orchestral suites from several of Rimsky-Korsakov’s other operas, including The Snow Maiden, Sadko and Le Coq d’or. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are in incredibly fine form with this repertoire, which you can also hear on recordings of Scheherazade and Capriccio espagnol, also released on Naxos this past May and September, respectively. © 2011 Operavore/WQXR (New York)




Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade is a colorful and powerful score, and many conductors have done it well, but this one goes over and beyond. Each phrase grabs you. The orchestra is technically and emotionally superb. This is a real sonic feast for the ears—spectacular, explosive, electrifying! The pairing is equally vivid and expressive. This is a proof that the great names of the past still can be beaten! © MusicWeb International



Martin Cotton
BBC Music Magazine, July 2011

Performance
Recording

Like Charles Dutoit in his recent version of Sheherazade (on Onyx), Gerard Schwarz has the benefit of bright digital sound, but unfortunately the comparisons don’t end there: both conductors often seem unwilling to allow the music the flexibility it needs to live and breathe fully. Maria Larionoff imbues her violin solos with some feeling, and there is excellent work from the wind principals, but the ebb and flow of the waves in the first movement obstinately fails to materialise. In the second movement, there’s the opposite problem: changes of tempo are misjudged and awkward, leading to an unsettled feeling.

Schwarz is more in the groove in the romantic portrayal of the ‘Young Prince and Princess’, where there is some delicious, but not overindulgent string playing, and the rhythmic pliability is much more natural and organic. And in the finale the pacing is also more sure-footed, though there’s a lack of sheer orchestral power at the climaxes—something that’s revealed mercilessly by the recording quality.

In the less familiar Tsar Saltan Suite, there’s greater vibrancy and feeling for the music, helped by a stronger string presence in the balance. Tempos click into place effortlessly, and the lapping figure which represents the sea comes across with more character than in Sheherazade. Perhaps the month between the sessions found the performers on a better day: recorded slightly later still, the Flight of the Burnblcbee is even more beguiling.




Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, June 2011

Rimsky-Korsakov was one of those composers who were expert in how to say something but did not always know what to say. That said, his most popular work deserves its fame. In Sheherazade his invention was at its peak, and was supported by a unique mastery of orchestration. It is officially a suite, but due to its proportions and structure could just as well be called a symphony. After all, its brother Antar, with a similar program, was designated by the composer as his Symphony No. 2.

The story is based on The Book of 1001 Nights. We hear some of the tales that Sheherazade told the stern Sultan Shakhriar. The music opens with dialogue between the powerful, angry bass of the Sultan and the sweet arabesque of the violin, impersonating the storyteller herself. These two voices reappear later in the course of the suite, as Sheherazade introduces her new stories.

The first movement is a vivid picture of the open sea that carries the ship of Sinbad the Sailor. Rimsky-Korsakov, a naval officer himself, certainly knew the subject well. His orchestral skill is on full display: one can almost see the foam torn by the wind off the wave-tops, hear the roaring depths beneath. In the quiet moments, the Sea is beautiful and inviting, its lulling and rocking motion is tender. The colours here and in the following parts are Oriental: this is the Sea seen through Sinbad’s eyes.

The second movement is a kind of orchestral ballad. It starts with the solo woodwinds narrating their sad story over the strumming accompaniment of a harp. This story is all hostility, galloping horses, fierce battles and clashing swords. The gloomy mood is dispersed in the third movement, which tells of happy love. It is subtitled The Young Prince and the Princess. The music is built on two themes. The first is sensual and calm—probably, depicting the Prince. The second is playful and happy: probably, the Princess. This dancing theme is sprinkled with little bells and dotted rhythms.

In the last interlude between the Sultan and Sheherazade, the ruler is already in a better mood, and is impatient to hear what happens next. The finale starts with the bustling noise of the Festival in Baghdad. Amid the swirling crowds we see familiar faces from the previous parts. All of a sudden, we are back in the wide sea, aboard Sinbad’s ship. The sea is full of scary fascination, and the storm carries us to a magnificent shipwreck on the Magnet Rock. There is a return to calm, and the sweet voice of Sheherazade rises in the air for the last time over the pacific murmurs of the tamed Sultan.

And from Sultan to Saltan. Like many composers of his generation, Rimsky-Korsakov quenched his thirst for the Exotic in the Orient. He was also Number One in the painted hall of Russian musical fairytale. That’s the source of Tsar Saltan. The music was extracted from Rimsky’s opera written in 1899, on the subject from one of Pushkin’s fairytale poems.

The first movement depicts The Tsar’s Farewell and Departure and is a bouncy march. Were it slower, it could be called solemn; as it is, it has a not-so-serious, almost comic air, like the Russian version of the Radetzky March. After all, the tale is for children. The second movement is entitled The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea—yes, such things do happen sometimes. The Tsarina is definitely not happy about the situation. We hear the voice of the sea, similar to the waves that carried Sinbad’s ship, though now without that delight. The water is dripping, and the Tsarina laments her fate. Toward the end the sea becomes more benevolent—apparently, bringing the barrel to the shore.

In the last movement we see the three wonders of the magical city of Ledenets (no relation). First, the wonderful squirrel sings a merry song while crunching nuts made of gold and emeralds. Then, 33 mighty warriors emerge from the sea to guard the city. Finally we hear the lush, enchanting music of the beautiful Swan-Princess. The episodes are prefaced and separated by fanfares, and the sequence ends in a glittering coda.

From the same opera comes the famous Flight of the Bumblebee. It is a short and effective encore, and should be considered as such.

Once I had a quest for the perfect Sheherazade. I heard quite a few, famous and not so famous, from Beecham to Gergiev. They all missed something, here or there. They were either too down-to-earth or too ephemeral, too lethargic or too brisk. At least, they all urged me to continue looking. Finally, I found the 1948 Ansermet with Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, and it became my Sheherazade, powerful and beautiful, wildly energetic yet light. But the sound quality there was…well, not a match for the playing. In this new recording I hear all the good of Ansermet, and more. It is even more powerful, even more beautiful. Decisions as to tempo are just perfect, and each phrase grabs the listener. Maria Larionoff’s violin conveys the character of the storyteller: sweet and slender, yet very smart. The orchestra dazzles. The recording quality is excellent. You find yourself in the middle of the sea, the battle, the festive crowds. I can’t say if this is the best Sheherazade ever—I haven’t heard them all, and tastes differ. However if I’m asked for my pick, this will be it. It’s the best one I’ve heard.



Film Music: The Neglected Art, March 2011

This latest recording from Naxos with the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz and featuring Maria Larionoff on violin would be a fine addition to your collection especially if Scheherazade isn’t already part of your collection. In my opinion it is a must have as it is likely the finest example of orchestral symphonic writing ever. Written during a very productive time in his composing career the work is loosely based on the tales of the Arabian nights with the violin solo usually performed by the concertmaster of the orchestra being the voice of Scheherazade who would tell a tale each night so that her life would be spared.

The work is divided into four parts each movement being given a separate name. “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” is played at a slower pace than others I’ve heard and I like hearing it both ways. The slower pace gives certain phrasing a more distinct and precise sound which I find easier to listen to. The orchestra in the performing of the short individual solos from the flute, French horn, clarinet, oboe, and violin are nicely recorded and play it well. While it was slow I didn’t feel as if it dragged along or sound like they were laboring at all. “The Kalender Prince” begins with a wonderful solo from Larionoff very well played and recorded. The pace on this movement is somewhat faster and more what I’m use to listening to. The brass section plays well in their passages where they are featured. The same can be said about “The Young Prince and the Princess” which is a lush romantic section of the work featuring the strings. “Festival at Baghdad-The Sea,” the final movement, is one of swirling and tension with the orchestra in some parts almost at a breakneck pace. The orchestra has definitely warmed up. The finale of the movement returns us back to the original theme.

The Tale of Tsar Saltan (Suite) was written twelve years after and is an opera based on another fairy tale. The suite is of course taken from it and includes the often performed ”Flight of the Bumblebee” which is not just played by classical ensembles but all types of swing, jazz, and rock groups. The opening movement is festive and magical, the middle movement dark and mysterious, and the final movement is filled with joy and wonder. All three begin with a majestic trumpet fanfare as an introduction. The twenty minute work is definitely more than filler material and the Seattle symphony sounded well rehearsed.

Both works have to be given high marks for playing and recording. The percussion is crisp and clean sounding, the brass bright, and the strings and woodwinds smooth…I could certainly make a case that you should at least consider this one. Recommended.



John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, March 2011

Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) wrote his symphonic suite Sheherazade in 1888, describing it as “a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of oriental character.” As such, it really isn’t so much descriptive as it is evocative, with only the narrator, the beautiful slave girl characterized by the solo violin, being a specific representative element.

The composer did give the four movements in the suite names, however, which he later withdrew. Nevertheless, they persist. “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” (Prelude) sounds wonderfully smooth, flowing, light, and airy under the conductorship of Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle Symphony players.  Schwarz emphasizes the lyrical qualities as well as anybody, nicely catching the beauty and rhythms of the piece. “The Kalender Prince” (Ballade) displays a pleasingly glamorous touch, the exotic Middle-Eastern motif exploited to the fullest. Moreover, concertmaster Maria Larionoff’s violin solos (she plays on a 1775 Guadagnini) as the young narrator are sweet and delightful.

Under Maestro Schwarz, “The Young Prince and Princess” (Adagio) is appropriately romantic and engaging, taking us to “The Festival at Baghdad--The Sea” (Finale), which Schwarz ensures is as thrilling as it is dashing.

The program concludes with an orchestral suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. It is brief, four movements of two-to-seven minutes each, but it carries with it the same kind of fairy-tale qualities we find in Sheherazade, if not quite so entrancing.

Recorded at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, in 2010, the audio is among Naxos’s better efforts. It is full and wide ranging, with decent impact, a broad dynamic spread, and sparkling highs.  Midrange transparency comes through nicely, and stage depth, while modest, is realistic. Although the deepest bass is somewhat light in Sheherazade, the mid-bass more than makes up for it. Besides, the deep bass comes through much better in The Tale of Tsar Saltan, which Naxos recorded a month or so later with what seems like different miking. Perhaps not in the absolute top tier of audiophile recordings, the sound, nonetheless, should disappoint no one.



Sterling Beeaff
KBAQ, March 2011

Gerard Schwarz leads the Seattle Symphony in a recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s vivid fairy-tale symphonic suite Sheherazade and a set of musical pictures from the magical opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan.




Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, March 2011

I put this disc on expecting decent playing, an acceptable artistic vision, and little more. Was it prejudice? Perhaps it was the fact that recent Naxos efforts in the core repertoire have been so hit-or-miss: Pietari Inkinen’s sometimes-dreary new Sibelius cycle, Jun Märkl’s bland Daphnis et Chloé, the LSO’s similarly bland Brahms and Bartók coupling. Perhaps it was that the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gerard Schwarz have previously teamed up (on Naxos and Delos) to provide us with the byways of obscure American (and especially Jewish-American) music: Achron, Bernstein, Diamond, Foss, Hovhaness, Schoenfield, Schuman. Perhaps it was the fact that Scheherazade is easy to play well, but hard to play memorably. So I’ll confess: I had low expectations.

They were blown away. This is spectacular, an effort in which everyone has put their best foot forward. Gerard Schwarz leads with an unerring sense of when to be expansive, when to indulge in romantic gestures, and when to step on the gas pedal and let the music explode with passion. The Seattle Symphony sounds world-class, with great woodwind soloists (especially the oboist), punchy brass, and a satisfying blend of precision and expression. The recorded engineers have hampered solo violinist Maria Larionoff with too much reverb, but they have also captured the proceedings in a full orchestral sound which starts with crackling tuba and satisfyingly present double basses and builds upward in a richly layered sound-picture. At times the orchestra sounds uncannily like an organ.

This Scheherazade is very nearly beyond praise; aside from the reverb which surrounds the violinist (but nobody else, oddly, except briefly the solo clarinet in the second movement), everything goes right. The opening movement’s seascape builds with slow, steady fervor until the climaxes reach feverish degrees of intensity. The “Kalender Prince” contrasts the lush wind solos with fierce, violent outbursts: when the central section opens, watch out. The percussionists are precisely on-rhythm and boldly project their parts. The love-scene slow movement isn’t as lavish or sensual as it could be, but it flows naturally and benefits from those superb wind soloists. (It can’t be mentioned often enough that oboist Ben Hausmann makes his every solo unforgettably tender.) And the finale, enlivened with a rumbling bass drum, starts with an atmospheric festival and concludes with Maria Larionoff’s most heartfelt solo work of all.

Mostly, it’s thrilling just to hear a performance this good in sound this good. Probably there are a dozen orchestras which have played this well in this music in past decades (though, to my mind, approaches like Ansermet’s are too fast and Haitink’s too colorless), but Naxos’ crystal-clear sound quality takes things to a new level. How satisfying it is to hear the tubas lending oomph to the opening outburst of the finale! How delightful it is to really feel the bass drum, or to hear the harp serenades like something from a dream!

Tale of Tsar Saltan is at least as good. The first movement (Tsar’s Farewell and Departure) has a snappy directness, Schwarz’ perfectly-chosen tempos matched every step of the way by the Seattle players’ gung-ho commitment. The moodier central movement (The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea) is suitably emotive: the violins shriek in psychological agony, the pizzicato chords are like daggers, the seascapes shimmer with dark splendor and at times sound like far more “modern” composers’ work, and the droning bass again shade in the background with the richness of an organ. The finale (The Three Wonders), light on its toes and enjoyably skittish, bounces off the walls with energy, and in the second minute, as the bass drum rolls start piling up on top of brass fanfares, motoric string rhythms, and wind players running for cover, it’s hard to resist standing up or drawing a sweat.

There are a hundred other recordings of this music, but once a certain level of artistic brilliance is reached, comparisons become moot. My favorite Scheherazade is still Evgeny Svetlanov’s sprawling, voluptuously romantic account with the LSO, a live take on BBC Legends. At fifty minutes it overflows with erotic warmth. One place in which it is noticeably superior is in the flute-harp duet at the end of “Kalender Prince,” which Schwarz takes largely in tempo but for which Svetlanov stops time and indulges in a breathtaking, slow caress of the soloists.

But this new Seattle/Schwarz account takes second place easily, brushing aside such luminaries on my shelf as Haitink, Bátiz, and Ansermet—whose Tsar Saltan lacks vividness compared to this—with its irresistible combination of sense of occasion, (mostly) opulent sound, and intelligent direction. It is just as satisfying as Eugene Ormandy’s glorious Philadelphia reading, and in modern sound to boot. The only real flaw is that the disc ends with Flight of the Bumblebee. Was that necessary? Not only is it a trifle we’ve all heard a million times, it’s an anticlimax. Every single track on the CD has more emotional weight, more dramatic oomph, and a more compelling ending. After sitting through the bumblebee’s short flight, I doubled back and listened to Tale of Tsar Saltan a second time for a more satisfying conclusion. Not that I minded terribly.

So in a way, this disc has restored my faith. After the drudgery of Märkl’s Ravel, or the lack of distinction of Charles Dutoit’s Scheherazade CD with the Royal Philharmonic only a few months ago, it becomes all too easy to wonder what, exactly, the purpose is of continuing to issue recordings of works which have been released hundreds of times. Any new disc of beloved music needs to offer something that cannot be had on any old disc of that music. And, thankfully, this Scheherazade has just that.

And, while I’m on my soap box, I want to add something else. The standards of classical artistry these days are phenomenally high, so high we need to step back for a second and gain some perspective. Sixty years ago, to draw this kind of impassioned but precise response from an orchestra, any orchestra, you needed to be a Thomas Beecham or a Eugene Ormandy. Moreover, you needed to have one of the world’s best orchestras at your disposal, with strong personalities in every department, soloists who could rise to the challenges, and the energy to thrive when asked to throw all inhibitions to the wind. Today, we have a Scheherazade by a seemingly average American orchestra based in a city smaller than Leeds, Valencia or even El Paso, Texas, led by a conductor associated with ‘specialist’ repertoire, produced for a budget-priced record label—and the results are nothing short of spectacular.



Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Bargain of the Month

I put this disc on expecting decent playing, an acceptable artistic vision, and little more. Was it prejudice? Perhaps it was the fact that recent Naxos efforts in the core repertoire have been so hit-or-miss: Pietari Inkinen’s sometimes-dreary new Sibelius cycle, Jun Märkl’s bland Daphnis et Chloé, the LSO’s similarly bland Brahms and Bartók coupling. Perhaps it was that the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gerard Schwarz have previously teamed up (on Naxos and Delos) to provide us with the byways of obscure American (and especially Jewish-American) music: Achron, Bernstein, Diamond, Foss, Hovhaness, Schoenfield, Schuman. Perhaps it was the fact that Scheherazade is easy to play well, but hard to play memorably. So I’ll confess: I had low expectations.

They were blown away. This is spectacular, an effort in which everyone has put their best foot forward. Gerard Schwarz leads with an unerring sense of when to be expansive, when to indulge in romantic gestures, and when to step on the gas pedal and let the music explode with passion. The Seattle Symphony sounds world-class, with great woodwind soloists (especially the oboist), punchy brass, and a satisfying blend of precision and expression. The recorded engineers have hampered solo violinist Maria Larionoff with too much reverb, but they have also captured the proceedings in a full orchestral sound which starts with crackling tuba and satisfyingly present double basses and builds upward in a richly layered sound-picture. At times the orchestra sounds uncannily like an organ.

This Scheherazade is very nearly beyond praise; aside from the reverb which surrounds the violinist (but nobody else, oddly, except briefly the solo clarinet in the second movement), everything goes right. The opening movement’s seascape builds with slow, steady fervor until the climaxes reach feverish degrees of intensity. The “Kalender Prince” contrasts the lush wind solos with fierce, violent outbursts: when the central section opens, watch out. The percussionists are precisely on-rhythm and boldly project their parts. The love-scene slow movement isn’t as lavish or sensual as it could be, but it flows naturally and benefits from those superb wind soloists. (It can’t be mentioned often enough that oboist Ben Hausmann makes his every solo unforgettably tender.) And the finale, enlivened with a rumbling bass drum, starts with an atmospheric festival and concludes with Maria Larionoff’s most heartfelt solo work of all.

Mostly, it’s thrilling just to hear a performance this good in sound this good. Probably there are a dozen orchestras which have played this well in this music in past decades (though, to my mind, approaches like Ansermet’s are too fast and Haitink’s too colorless), but Naxos’ crystal-clear sound quality takes things to a new level. How satisfying it is to hear the tubas lending oomph to the opening outburst of the finale! How delightful it is to really feel the bass drum, or to hear the harp serenades like something from a dream!

Tale of Tsar Saltan is at least as good. The first movement (Tsar’s Farewell and Departure) has a snappy directness, Schwarz’ perfectly-chosen tempos matched every step of the way by the Seattle players’ gung-ho commitment. The moodier central movement (The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea) is suitably emotive: the violins shriek in psychological agony, the pizzicato chords are like daggers, the seascapes shimmer with dark splendor and at times sound like far more “modern” composers’ work, and the droning bass again shade in the background with the richness of an organ. The finale (The Three Wonders), light on its toes and enjoyably skittish, bounces off the walls with energy, and in the second minute, as the bass drum rolls start piling up on top of brass fanfares, motoric string rhythms, and wind players running for cover, it’s hard to resist standing up or drawing a sweat.

There are a hundred other recordings of this music, but once a certain level of artistic brilliance is reached, comparisons become moot. My favorite Scheherazade is still Evgeny Svetlanov’s sprawling, voluptuously romantic account with the LSO, a live take on BBC Legends. At fifty minutes it overflows with erotic warmth. One place in which it is noticeably superior is in the flute-harp duet at the end of “Kalender Prince,” which Schwarz takes largely in tempo but for which Svetlanov stops time and indulges in a breathtaking, slow caress of the soloists.

But this new Seattle/Schwarz account takes second place easily, brushing aside such luminaries on my shelf as Haitink, Bátiz, and Ansermet—whose Tsar Saltan lacks vividness compared to this—with its irresistible combination of sense of occasion, (mostly) opulent sound, and intelligent direction. It is just as satisfying as Eugene Ormandy’s glorious Philadelphia reading, and in modern sound to boot. The only real flaw is that the disc ends with Flight of the Bumblebee. Was that necessary? Not only is it a trifle we’ve all heard a million times, it’s an anticlimax. Every single track on the CD has more emotional weight, more dramatic oomph, and a more compelling ending. After sitting through the bumblebee’s short flight, I doubled back and listened to Tale of Tsar Saltan a second time for a more satisfying conclusion. Not that I minded terribly.

So in a way, this disc has restored my faith. After the drudgery of Märkl’s Ravel, or the lack of distinction of Charles Dutoit’s Scheherazade CD with the Royal Philharmonic only a few months ago, it becomes all too easy to wonder what, exactly, the purpose is of continuing to issue recordings of works which have been released hundreds of times. Any new disc of beloved music needs to offer something that cannot be had on any old disc of that music. And, thankfully, this Scheherazade has just that.

And, while I’m on my soap box, I want to add something else. The standards of classical artistry these days are phenomenally high, so high we need to step back for a second and gain some perspective. Sixty years ago, to draw this kind of impassioned but precise response from an orchestra, any orchestra, you needed to be a Thomas Beecham or a Eugene Ormandy. Moreover, you needed to have one of the world’s best orchestras at your disposal, with strong personalities in every department, soloists who could rise to the challenges, and the energy to thrive when asked to throw all inhibitions to the wind. Today, we have a Scheherazade by a seemingly average American orchestra based in a city smaller than Leeds, Valencia or even El Paso, Texas, led by a conductor associated with ‘specialist’ repertoire, produced for a budget-priced record label—and the results are nothing short of spectacular.



Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, March 2011

My first thought was to wonder if this new recording could match or even excel Naxos’s incumbent version (Philharmonia/Bátiz, also with the Tsar Saltan Suite, 8.550726)—and then if it could do the same to the classic Beecham and Reiner recordings, on EMI 5669832, with Borodin Polovtsian Dances, and RCA 88697700362, with Stravinsky Rossignol, respectively. The answer is yes to the former, but the jury is still out for me on the second count: I never wish to be without either or both of those recordings, elderly though they now are. I do think, however, that Monteux’s recording—no longer available, in any case—is now too dated, for all that I have enjoyed hearing it on LP and CD for many years, so my copy of the Decca Weekend reissue is off to the charity shop.

The new version is a full-blooded performance in full-bodied sound; though it doesn’t neglect the more tender moments, it does stress the drama, whereas Beecham captures both the dramatic and emotive aspects of the music slightly more even-handedly. The Tsar Saltan Suite and the Flight of the Bumblebee make excellent fillers.

The Naxos has a price advantage over Beecham and Reiner, both on CD and as a download—in fact, I couldn’t find the Reiner currently on offer as a download and the Beecham seems to have disappeared from Passionato, though it’s available for £5.99 in mp3 from HMV Digital.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2011

Sheherazade’s life hangs on a thread as she spins out her stories to her royal master to put off the day when she will be executed. But will she be successful? Conductor, Gerard Schwarz, helps her devious plan with unhurried tempos as he unfolds in infinite detail each story from the beautiful girl. It is the work, more than any other, that has placed Rimsky-Korsakov’s name in musical posterity, the disc catalogue already bulging with recordings, most aiming at creating the sonic spectacular to which the score lends itself. Schwarz has opted for long phrases that are keen to explore the work’s subtle colours, the percussion in the final Festival of Baghdad integrated into the general texture. I am not quite sure what we should make of Schwarz’s sadness in the concluding passage, but it is unusual. As a whole the performance is a foil to Naxos’s earlier version from the Philharmonia and Enrique Batiz, the emphasis there being on the score’s primary colours, his brand of excitement still potent on rehearing the disc. Yet sample the scurrying strings and woodwind in the final movement to enjoy the accuracy of the Seattle Orchestra, and it is accuracy that has permeated the whole performance. Like the earlier disc, this new release includes the orchestral suite from the opera, The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, Schwarz, and his recording engineer, here opting for a much brighter and high impact sound. There is swagger, vivacity and that tingle factor we all love. As an encore we whizz through The Flight of the Bumblebee from the same opera.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, February 2011

Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle forces turn in an absolutely terrific Sheherazade: voluptuous, exotic, with a nice flexibility of pulse, but also very exciting. You can tell this will be a fine performance from the very first bar: firm and strong, with the brass giving the theme a menacing growl, followed by Maria Larionoff’s bewitching solo violin representing the protagonist herself. Only the finale, while admirably fleet and precise, lacks a touch of cinematic sparkle, but when everything else goes so well this is a minor point. The two inner movements in particular have a crispness and flow that are very welcome, and (these days) somewhat unusual.

The Tsar Saltan Suite is just plain spectacular—as colorful and brilliant as you could imagine. Its central movement, “The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea”, is particularly gripping: the strings really dig, the accompaniment throbs, and the entire movement has an emotional impact that most performances barely begin to suggest. Through it all the orchestra plays with one hundred percent commitment, and the sonics, just a shade dry, offer maximum clarity. This is the first disc in a projected series, and if it maintains this standard it will be a high point in the extensive Schwarz/Seattle discography.






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