No, you're not experiencing deja vu. It's just that it wasn't too long ago that I reviewed EMI's own remastering of this classic 1957 recording in their "Great Recordings of the Century" series. I said of it at the time that it ranked high among all available versions of the score, and that with EMI's remastering it also ranked high for sonic quality. My only quibbles about EMI's sound were that I noticed some small background noise and a slightly less-robust bass than on a few of its competitors. Now, the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have remastered the recording from a 2-track 15ips tape, and, if anything, it sounds better than I have ever heard it before.
Anyway, for over forty years I lived contentedly with Bernard Haitink's 1972 London Philharmonic rendering of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade on Philips. Haitink's unfussy account always seemed to me to present the work with the proper proportions of poetry and grand passion. But, I admit, both the interpretation and the recording may seem too straightforward for some listeners. Recorded a few years later in 1979 came Kiril Kondrashin's Concertgebouw reading, also on Philips, with an altogether more dynamic impact. It, too, became, a prime choice in this material. In the digital age only two recordings impressed me as strongly: Emmanuel Krivine's on Denon and Charles Mackerras's on Telarc. And before Haitink, I had only three other old favorite recordings: Pierre Monteux's on Decca; Fritz Reiner's on RCA; and Sir Thomas Beecham's on EMI. Except for the Monteux, which I have not heard on CD, the older editions held their heads high.
|Sir Thomas Beecham|
There is no doubt in my mind Beecham's interpretation is the most poetically inspiring vision of all. Steven Staryk's violin solos, the voice of the lady Scheherazade, are magnificently soaring in their lyricism. Nor does the excitement go wanting, especially in the big closing numbers, "The Festival of Baghdad" and "The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock." Beecham's magic touch, the constant twinkle in his eye, and his effervescent joy in conducting are forever in evidence. This is music-making of the highest order.
Then there's the sound, engineered by Christopher Parker in March 1957 at Kingsway Hall, London. It is splendid, indeed, especially in its new HDTT remastering.
Of the half dozen comparisons I've mentioned, Beecham's recording is clearly among the best, the most transparent, the most natural, the most dynamic, and the most well-imaged you'll find. The sonics are, in fact, top drawer by the standards of any day. The high end in particular is realistically open, yet the overall audio balance is warmer and smoother than ever. Indeed, the comparison I made to the EMI disc reveals that the HDTT version sounds less bright and just as natural but maybe even more so. The bass is probably no deeper than on EMI's version, yet it seems to have more body and greater warmth. In essence, it sounds more real.
In my experience, it is only the equally old Reiner/RCA account that comes close sonically or interpretatively to the Beecham, the Reiner a recording also made better, incidentally, in its own remastering (JVC XRCD). So, yes, a couple of remasterings take high sonic honors in this work: HDTT (Beecham) and JVC (Reiner).
All told, Beecham's account on HDTT (or EMI, but I prefer the sound of the newer HDTT) is one of the best recordings of this music on the market. Could I recommend the recording any more strongly? Hardly.
For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: