Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade (CD review)

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.



  1. 1. No 24 bits remastering in 2001
    2. No Borodin 2 on this edition of the CD.


  2. barefoot,

    I'm holding in my hand the 2006 re-issued disc reviewed here and reading from the back cover: "Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) Symphony No. 2 in B minor." And from the front and back covers: "96kHz, 24-bit Remastering." Sorry. Don't know where you got your information.

  3. Weird, I have the 2006 edition and... no Borodin. Go figure. A bootleg? Now is far too late to return it. I don't even remember where it came from.

    Sorry about the inconvenience.

    By the way, someone posted your review at:


    without mentioning the author.

    Thank you for your instructive reviews.

  4. Research/listen on Amazon UK:

    1996 Scheherazade + Symphony No. 2 + Capriccio Espagnol + Russian Easter Festival

    2001."96kHz, 24-bit Remastering, Scheherazade + Symphony No. 2, picture on front totally different from 1996

    2006."96kHz, 24-bit Remastering, Scheherazade + Symphony No. 2 picture on front made bigger

    All samples sounded hissy, perhaps the 1996 less so ironically


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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
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For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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