I’ve been meaning to throw this in for a while.  My friend Dave E in Brisbane sent this to me for my 30th birthday.  First off, I’ve got to say congratulations to him for having a crack at buying me a CD.  Because I like classical music, a lot of people don’t attempt that – or certainly don’t attempt buying me a classical music CD anyway.

And I’m so glad I got this one, because it’s the kind of thing I probably would never have gone out and bought for myself, but it’s such an awesome disc, that I’m really glad I’ve got it.

It has three major works on it.  The pick of the bunch, by far, is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.  Back when it was written, the Arabian Nights books were a big hit, and so Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a four-movement piece (it has four sections, in other words) basecd around the theme of the books.  It’s not strictly a blow by blow story soundtrack, but if your imagination wanders to things exotic and middle-Eastern (think Prince of Persia, for those of you who are into computer games), then you’ll get the general vibe.

The first violin has to do a lot of work, because the Scheherazade of the story was the wife of the Sultan who told him a different story every night for 1001 nights until he decided to marry her.  So her theme is a rich exotic one on solo violin which appears at various times throughout the work, almost as if she’s telling the rest of the piece, and she just appears from time to time.

It very much has the feel of film music, even though this pre-dates film, because it will often alternate between Scheherazade telling the story, turbulent music of action and danger, and then more romantic music.  It all reminded me very much of the finales on those old swashbuckling films of the 30s and 40s.

This particular recording is from the 60s, so the orchestra isn’t quite as sharp as you get with modern recordings, but you won’t even notice.  They’ve cleaned the sound up so well, and everything has so much oomph, and the Scheherazade violin solos are so spot-on perfect (they’re pretty tricky, believe me), that there’s not a boring moment for the whole 45 minutes.

The second piece on the disc is the Cappricio Italien by Tchaikovsky.  This piece is quite loud and spectacular to listen to, but for some reason, it seems to pale compared with the Rimsky-Korsakov.  I’m not sure whether it’s the piece isn’t quite as gripping or the performance isn’t as good.  I’m not sure.

And, finally, we finish with possibly the biggest orchestral chestnut of all time – the 1812 Overture.  Because (as you might have guessed from the title) the music on this overture actually has a lot to do with the theme of War and Peace, I shall come back and write a bit more about this overture later in the reading project.

But for now, I think I just need to say that if you want to listen to some awesome orchestral music that really has stood the test of time, get hold of this disc – and play it on a stereo, not     your tinny little iPod headphones.  This stuff deserves to fill a room with sound!

5 out of 5 for the Scheherazade, jury’s still out on the other two.

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6 thoughts on “CD Review: Scheherazade, Cappricio Italien and 1812 Overture

  1. Thanks for this review Matt. Isn’t it funny how we can hae really quite etensive classical music collections, and still not hve some of the staples? Like you, people hardly ever give me classical CDs – for th same reasons that they don’t give them to you – and so, like you, I don’t have Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. I really don’t know why – like you say, i’s a very eciting piece of music. And I reckon any of those DG Originals series will be a safe bet, so maybe I should lash out and get it for myself one day. I’ve got a fantastic recording of the 1812, with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the St Petersburg Phil (and choirs and military bands and canons and nuclear explosions and kitchen sinks). It’s terribly crass music but I love it.

  2. This 1812 is rather unusual because instead of the strings at the beginning, it actually has a Russian choir singing the opening chorale. Quite interesting stuff.

    Speaking of Ashkenazy, I got to watch him in action on Saturday night, conducting an all Elgar program. I’m not a huge Elgar fan, but I must admit, he makes a good case for it.

  3. I’m not much of an Elgar fan either – although, about twenty years ago, I heard a recording of his Cello Concerto and was so bowled over by it that I straight away went out and bought not only the recording, but a cello as well. And I reckon the Dream of Gerontius is pretty stunning, too.

  4. All of that has been happening in Sydney the last few weeks. Ashkenazy is doing an Elgar Festival, so all of those pieces are being played.

    Ah well . . . I’ll hang out for the Bruckner festival . . . maybe they’ll do one.

    They did Beethoven two years ago, Rachmaninov last year, Elgar this year and Prokofiev next year. It’s got to happen sooner or later.

  5. I actually remember years ago how Sydney used to have a composer festival each year. When I lived in Sydney, in 1980, it was Mahler – but, back then, it was around February I think.

    But I’ve never been able to get into Bruckner all that much, I have to confess. The unshiftable heroes for me will always be Wagner, Mahler and (somewhat off on a different course) Messiaen.

  6. I can understand why people struggle with Bruckner. There’s little moments that jump out, but then there seem to be these long moments of nothing as well.

    I’m still trying to get my head around his symphonies and how they’re structured, and then I think I’ll be in a clearer position to talk about it. But already, I prefer him over Wagner. Wagner is beautiful, but his messages are troubling.

    Bruckner’s doing something completely different again. Anyway, a discussion for another time.

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