3 Symphonies, Capriccio espagnol, Russian Easter Festival Overture
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1988
Apart from few works as the Capriccio espagnol, Sheherazade and the Flying of the Bumble-Bee, the production of Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov is virtually unknown to the West, even though some recordings have aroused interest from time to time (I suggest to listen to the outstanding The Tsar’s Bride recorded by Gergiev, Borodina and Hvorostovsky). Rimsky-Korsakov is mainly considered a “nationalistic” composer and in fact no one more than him has contributed to the assimilation of folk music and to the creation of the so-called “Russian style”, even though in his later years he was sceptical about «a distinctively “Russian music”» as «both harmony and melody are pan-European. […] Russian traits – and national traits in general – are not acquired by writing according to specific rules, but rather by removing from the common language of music those devices which are inappropriate to a Russian style».
The present recording offers an extensive selection of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral works (the three symphonies, the Russian Easter Festival Overture and Capriccio espagnol) superbly performed by conductor Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, so that in the end the listener will be able to decide if a “Russian style” is really present or not. In my personal opinion, it is particularly recognizable in the Symphony no. 2, which is markedly folk.
The five works of this collection share the crystalline and vibrant character to which Järvi’s clipped and brisk conduction gives prominence so well. The works are really enjoyable as the Symphony no. 1 in E minor is an animated work which is performed with the right élan and energy; the Symphony no. 2 “Antar”, which opens in a sombre way, reveals its vitality little by little, as in the second theme of the first movement or in the unrestrained Allegro, which seems inspired by the hidden force of folk music; the Symphony no. 3 in C major is instead a quiet and delicate work, just until the lively last movement.
For what concerns the Russian Easter Festival Overture, one would have preferred a faster (just a little faster) tempo, but this is not a real flaw and only a matter of personal taste considering that Järvi does justice to its rejoicing. There are no reservations for the Capriccio espagnol that Järvi characterizes with vivacity and warmth thanks to the quick and enthralling tempo.
The only flaw of this recording is that the sound is not exceptionally rich and from time to time a little more sparkling sounds would have been appreciated, but anyway the quality is excellent.