Also, Kristallene Gusli. Kirill Karabits, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.572405.
If you are like me, you may be more familiar with the Carmen Suite, the arrangement Russian composer Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin (b. 1932) made of Bizet's music in 1967 than anything else he's done. I confess I had reviewed an earlier recording of other Shchedrin works a few years ago and couldn't remember them. I'm afraid it's that kind of music: enjoyable, original, inventive, evocative, highly personal, and entirely forgettable. No offense intended, however, because I mean that as a kind of backhanded compliment; Shchedrin's music is enjoyable in the moment but not the kind of thing you go around humming afterwards.
Anyway, on this new Naxos release we get two Concertos for Orchestra from Shchedrin and one little tone poem, all of which Naxos recorded here for the first time. They break no new ground, but they are engaging enough to occupy a pleasant hour of one's time.
Shchedrin fills his 1989 Concerto for Orchestra No. 4 "Khorovody" (Roundelays) with an abundance of clever ideas and unusual combinations of instruments. Played as a single, extended series of round dances nearly a half an hour long, it is mostly gentle and relaxed, accelerating as it goes along, with echos of whistling winds, sleigh bells, distant thunder, folklike dance tunes of the composer's invention, with a recurring recorder keeping it all knit together. By the time it concludes, the music has built up into a minor fury, finally subsiding back into the calm in which it started. Conductor Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth Symphony players maintain an easygoing approach to the music and appear to enjoy a time well spent.
Concerto Orchestra No. 5, also premiered in 1989 and again set in a single movement, is a bit shorter than No. 4 at a little over twenty minutes and scored for a slightly smaller ensemble. This time Shchedrin uses a well-known Russian folk tune in the work, but the mood remains the same as the composer takes us on a musical journey via horse and carriage through various landscapes. Shchedrin says these treks are nostalgic childhood memories of his. Fair enough. It's all enjoyable stuff if somewhat light and not a little wistful in its sonorities.
I rather enjoyed the brief concluding piece, Kristallene Gusli (Crystal Psaltery), best of all. Composed in 1994, it reminds one of exactly what conductor Karabits says of it, describing it as sounding "like Japanese wind chimes."
There is plenty of clarity to the Naxos sound, making the diverse solo percussion instruments stand out smoothly and accurately. The orchestra never appears fogged over but displays ample detail and air. There is a particularly wide stereo spread involved, so the overall effect can be quite dramatic, though not overpowering. The only minor drawback is that the music can get a trifle bright and forward at times; however, it is never too distracting.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (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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