RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Sheherazade / The Tale of Tsar Saltan (Brian Culverhouse/ David Nolan/ Enrique Batiz/ Philharmonia Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550726)
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Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 - 1908)
Sheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35
The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Musical Pictures, Op. 57
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov originally intended a navalcareer, following the example of his elder brother. He showed some musical ability even asa very small child, but at the age of 14 he entered the Naval Cadet College in St.
Petersburg in pursuit of a more immediately attractive ambition. The city, in any case,offered musical opportunities. He continued piano lessons, but, more important than this,he was able to enjoy the opera and attend his first concerts.
It was in 1861, the year before he completed his course at theNaval College, that Rimsky-Korsakov met Balakirev, a musician who was to become animportant influence on him, as he was on the young army officers Mussorgsky and Cui, whoalready formed part of his circle. The meeting had a far-reaching effect onRimsky-Korsakov's career, although in 1862 he set sail as a midshipman on a cruise thatwas to keep him away from Russia for the next two and a half years.
On his return in 1865 Rimsky-Korsakov fell again under theinfluence of Balakirev. On shore there was more time for music and the encouragement heneeded for a serious application to music that resulted in compositions in which he showedhis early ability as an orchestrator and his defb1ess in the use of Russian themes, a giftthat Balakirev did much to encourage as part of his campaign to create a truly Russianform of music. In 1871 he took a position as professor of instrumentation and compositionat St. Petersburg Conservatory and the following year he resigned his commission in thenavy, to become a civilian Inspector of Naval Bands, a position created for him throughpersonal and family influence.
Rimsky-Korsakov's subsequent career was a distinguished one. Atthe same time he accepted the duty of completing and often orchestrating works leftunfinished by other composers of the new Russian school. As early as 1869 Dargomizhsky hadleft him the task of completing the opera The Stone Guest. Twenty years later he was toperform similar tasks for the music of Mussorgsky and for Borodin, both of whom had leftmuch undone at the time of their deaths. Relations with Balakirev were not always easy andhe was to become associated with Belyayev and his schemes for the publication of newRussian music, a connection that Balakirev could only see as disloyalty. There were otherinfluences on his composition, particularly with his first hearing of Wagner's Ring in1889 and consequent renewed attention to opera, after a brief period of depression andsilence, the result of illness and death in his family.
Rimsky-Korsakov was involved in the disturbances of 1905, whenhe sided with the Conservatory students, joining with some colleagues in a public demandfor political reform, an action that brought his dismissal from the institution, to whichhe was able to return when his pupil and friend Glazunov became director the followingyear. He died in 1908.
The symphonic suite Sheherazade was composed by Rimsky-Korsakovin the winter of 1887- 1888, taking as its literary inspiration excerpts from Tales of theArabian Nights, the fascinating series of stories told by the beautiful Sheherazade in aneffort to postpone her execution at the orders of her royal master. The choice of subjectexemplifies the attraction that the neighbouring cultures of Islam has had over Russiancomposers in search of exotic material. In his own description of SheherazadeRimsky-Korsakov rebuts the notion that his themes are, in general, connected solely toparticular events in the Arabian Nights, although the sinuous oriental solo violin melodyis associated with the story-teller herself. The thematic material, however, appears indifferent forms to convey differing moods and pictures. Other ideas had been suggested bythe sea, Sinbad's ship, Prince Kalender, the Prince and Princess, the Festival in Baghdadand the ship dashed against the rock with the bronze rider on it. The composer himselfdescribed the suite as a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of Orientalcharacter. The musical material, whatever its narrative significance, is, in any case,worked out symphonically. His original intention had been to give the movements theuninformative titles Prelude, Ballade, Adagio and Finale. He was later persuaded to addprogrammatic titles, which he later regretted and withdrew.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan largely during the summer of1899, the libretto based by Vladimir Ivanovich Byelsky on the poem by Pushkin, thecentenary of whose birth it celebrates. The work was first performed in Moscow by aprivate opera company, a successor to the company established by Mamontov, who had beenimprisoned for debts incurred in the construction of railways. It was well received,although a later private production in St. Petersburg proved unsatisfactory.
The Tale of Tsar Saltan, astylised fairy-tale, tells the story of the marriage of Tsar Saltan to the youngest ofthree sisters, who bears him a son, Prince Guidon. Saltan, absent at the wars, is told bythe Tsarina's jealous sisters, that she has borne him a monster, and commands that she andthe child be put in a barrel and sent out to sea. Mother and son are eventually strandedon a desert island, where Guidon, now coming to manhood, saves a swan from attack by akite, breaking the power of a sorcerer. As the Tsarina and Guidon sleep, the city ofLedenets appears on the island, and Guidon is welcomed by the people, released fromenchantment, as their prince. The city has three wonders, a magic squirrel that eats nutsof gold and sings, thirty-three magic knights, who emerge sometimes from the sea, and theSwan-Princess, whom Guidon had rescued and who eventually reveals herself to him in humanform. Saltan, hearing of these wonders, sails to the island and is amazed to find therehis beloved wife and a prince who greets him as father. The famous Flight of the Bumblebeeis heard in Act III of the opera, when Guidon, transformed with the help of theSwan-Princess into a bee, stings his wicked aunts and the old witch who has helped them.
The Musical Pictures from the opera, which were performed before the first performance ofthe opera itself, include the music for the departure of Tsar Saltan, an introduction toAct I, music from later in the Act, as the Tsarina and her baby are sent out to sea in abarrel, and the musical picture of the three wonder of Ledenets.
Philharmonia Orchestra, London
The Philharmonia Orchestra was established in London in 1945 byWalter Legge and gave its first concert under Sir Thomas Beecham in October of the sameyear. Other conductors associated with the orchestra included Otto Klemperer and CarloMaria Giulini, with guest conductors that included Toscanini and Richard strauss. On thewithdrawal of Walter Legge in 1964, the orchestra re-formed itself as the NewPhilharmonia, its first concert under the new name conducted by Klemperer. Herbert vonKarajan served as principal conductor from 1950 to 1959, with Klemperer from 1955 untilhis death in 1973, and Riccardo Muti from 1973 until1982, followed by Giuseppe sinopoli.
In 1977 the Philharmonia resumed its original name, continuing to occupy a distinguishedplace in the concert life of London and in the recording studio.
The distinguishedMexican conductor Enrique Batiz has enjoyed considerable international success, withperformances throughout the world, in particular in Europe and the Americas. From 1983 to1989 he was Musica