Also, Borodin: Symphony No. 2. Kiril Kondrashin, Concertgebouw Orchestra. Philips 475 7570.
Recorded in 1979, Kondrashin's performance of Scheherazade is one of my favorites in this work, the others coming from Reiner (RCA or JVC), Haitink (Philips), and Beecham (EMI), with Kletzki (on a hard-to-find EMI Eminence) and Mackerras (Telarc) not far behind. This Philips Kondrashin disc also marks the fourth incarnation of the recording I've owned: one LP and three CD's. I'm not sure I didn't like it best on LP, but this 96kHz/24-bit Philips "Originals" release is undoubtedly the best-sounding of the Kondrashin CD's.
Kondrashin's way with the work is big, robust, and energetic, yet even-tempered, too, the conductor filling out all the varied contrasts in the work from soft to loud, serene to bombastic, in equal measure. It is probably the best all-around interpretation one can find, even if it doesn't score high in any single area. For instance, I think Haitink beats him in poetic beauty; Beecham beats him in sparkle and charm; and Reiner beats him in excitement and sonics (especially in the audiophile-quality JVC XRCD edition). But there is no discounting Kondrashin's reasoned, rational, levelheaded approach to the music. This, incidentally, is in contrast to Valery Gergiev's more-recent Kiev recording (also on Philips), which I found too erratic. Kondrashin makes the four movements of the piece more of a whole, the entire work hanging together better as a single composition rather than appearing like a series of unrelated tone poems.
I wish I could say the same thing of the coupling, though, the Borodin Second Symphony, which Kondrashin recorded a year later in 1980 with the Concertgebouw. It seems as though it's more in the Gergiev Scheherazade style, rather too boisterous and mercurial for my taste. But, then, I'm used to the refined, yet stimulating Borodin Second Symphony recording made years ago by Jean Martinon for Decca.
On the Rimsky-Korsakov tracks, the sound of this 2006 reissue at first didn't seem any different to me than my oldest of Kondrashin CD recording; then, after numerous comparisons, instantly switching back and forth between two CD players, I began to detect a couple of minor things: The 24-bit edition (originally remastered in 2001 and here appearing for the second time) is subtly smoother and maybe, just maybe, a touch more dynamic. Nevertheless, the differences are so small that I couldn't really recommend the disc to people who already own either of the earlier versions. This newest edition is still lush, plush, and as radiant than ever, and it will not disappoint many listeners. The Borodin, recorded live, is brighter and noisier than the Rimsky-Korsakov, with more of a small background hiss noticeable at times. I'd buy it for the Scheherazade music foremost.
About the Author
I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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