Rimsky-Korsakov: The Maid of Pskov Suite (CD review)

Also, The Legend of the Invisible City Suite; Fairy Tale; Fantasia on Serbian Themes. Igor Golovchin, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.553513.

The music for The Maid of Pskov is incidental to the play on which Rimsky-Korsakov based his troubled opera (1872). The suite, frankly, left me a little bored. Perhaps I was expecting Scheherazade or the Russian Easter Festival Overture. In any event, most of the five movements are Entr'actes, meant to set various scenes rather than elaborate upon them. Maestro Igor Golovchin and the Moscow Symphony players do the best they can with it, I'm sure, the orchestra sounding finely polished.

The second work, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, from 1903, is much more evocative and has an especially elaborate and fanciful finale that is, in fact, reminiscent of the composer's earlier Scheherazade. Here, however, Golovchin seems a little understated when more color might have helped.

Igor Golovchin
Probably the best piece on the disc, though, is Fairy Tale (1880), a brief, thirteen-minute tone poem for which Rimsky-Korsakov felt forced to suggest a few guidelines to listeners, suggestions like the sounds of the forest, the call of a mythical bird, a water nymph, and the famous witch, Baba Yaga. It holds up pretty well under Golovchin's still somewhat conservative approach.

The program concludes with another short work, the eight-minute Fantasia on Serbian Themes (1887), which again seems better focused and more impressionistic than the Maid music. My only concern in the performance was for conductor Igor Golovchin's rather measured, somewhat foursquare interpretations. I was hoping he would let loose with some real Russian zeal, at least in the closing moments of the piece, but it was not to be.

The sound the Naxos engineers provide for the Moscow Symphony is typically firm and solid for the company. It's a bit warm and soft and doesn't have much sparkle, but it does come across as rock steady, clean, and sturdy. Stereo spread appears quite wide, depth is moderate, dynamics are fine, and bass, particularly from a prominent bass drum, shows up firm and deep. No real complaints here.

With an ample seventy-two minutes of music, the Naxos label again provides one's money's worth in terms of material offered. And at the very least the little Fairy Tale is worth one's time.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa