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Reviews: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade - Reiner

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Reviews: 11

Review by sgb January 27, 2005 (18 of 20 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This one's a real ear-opener! I doubt there's an audiophile on the planet who hasn't at least heard of this legendary recording, much less owned it in one of its various formats. By my count it was pressed to audiophile vinyl at least four times, and was, at one time, available as a gold CD. This is, far and away, the best of these, in my estimation, and it solidly outperforms RCA's earlier Living Stereo CD by a considerable margin.

The performance itself is one of the three or four best ever put on record, so all of this is to say that if you have not already ordered your copy of the new SA-CD remaster, there's no time like the present. Enthusiastically recommended.

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Review by flyingdutchman February 7, 2005 (14 of 16 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I have been waiting for this recording to grace the SACD format since the inception of the Living Stereo recordings and I am in no way disappointed in the recording or the performance. It is a three channel recording and as such we get a wonderfully full and detailed account of one of classical music's warhorses. Some have said that this is one of the few works where you don't need a number of recordings. In that sentiment, I disagree. There are a number of great recordings to be had such as Beecham's, Stokowski's LSO 1964 account, Kondrashin's recording (although not a favorite of mine), and this one. In a recording of Scheherazade, I look for someone who brings out the color of the recording (Stokowski's is probably best at that, but Reiner's is no slouch). Each one has different strengths. In Reiner, we have perhaps one of the best finales ever put to disc. A one-take finale, the trumpets triple tonguing is better than any I have ever heard. The violence and tumult of the waves crashing against the ship can be FELT, let alone heard.

Some have said the recording itself is boxy and limited in sound. I disagree. It is well spread out across the 3 channels and there is no focusing of the middle channel like in many recordings, but a wonderful usage of all three channels. Now, I have had almost all incarnations of this wonderful recordings on cd (from the 1988 RCA red label, to the Living Stereo cd, to the XRCD, and now this). This is by far the best release so far. Do not hesitate--get this one now!

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Review by tream February 21, 2005 (12 of 15 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Scheherazade was one of the works that introduced me to classical music. Others were things like the 1812 Overture and Rhapsody in Blue, back when I was about 14. I had a debate with my German teacher, Herr Nebel, about the merits of Rimsky-Korsakov, who I considered to be a genius and he considered to be a "modern composer". His tastes ran to Bach and Beethoven, and he may have changed my life forever when we first translated, then listed to, the finale of Beethoven's Ninth in class. Interestingly, he was a Klemperer fan, feeling that Beethoven got carried away at the conclusion and that Klemperer kept this in check. Anyway, after hearing Beethoven I no longer held quite the same opinion of Rimsky-Korsakov, and realized that Scheherazade is a nice piece but not a deep one.

I can't claim to be an expert on the recordings of Scheherazade, but what I hear listening to the Reiner is a great recording of top musicians playing extremely well. It really is an impactful recording with great dynamics and clarity. And the playing of the Chicago band is amazing-nothing but virtuosity. However, I have the feeling that Reiner (a conductor whose recordings of Beethoven, Strauss and Bartok I admire) didn't find a lot of music in Scheherazade either and decided to give his record company a sound spectacular. I find this recording to be tense, driven and unyielding-exciting, to be sure, but I feel like another interpretation might have found more in the score than Reiner does. Stokowski, maybe? I'd like to see some of his work on SACD. When I first started collecting recordings Stoky was out of favor-perhaps considered a bit of a charlatan, but listening to his performances on the Great Conductors of the 20th Century series (also realizing that he was still learning new scores at an age when many conductors have retired) opened up my eyes to his many talents, and it would be exciting to see some of his recordings reissued. Stokowski was always highly interested in sound and I'll bet he would have embraced SACD.

Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale is more than a filler, and I doubt if it will ever be better played than it is on this SACD.

I do recommend this SACD, with reservations. This recording of Scheherazade is a top choice for many listeners, it has really good sound, and incredible playing.

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Review by nickc May 7, 2005 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Press play on this disc and be prepared to be blasted out of your seat by the weight of trumpet tone at the opening - simply amazing! For some reason I feel lucky never to have heard this performance in any of its previous incarnations; I can just sit back and be amazed at a 45 year old recording sounding this good.
The one minor quibble I would have is that Reiner really pushes the opening movement. Some of the inexorability of the sea is lost at this tempo and Sidney Harth's interjections as Scheherazade can't really blossom (even though he plays beautifully) as, say, Herman Krebbers did in his early 70s recording with Haitink. Don't forget we are going to have a storm in the last movement anyway. This is only a purely personal thing and you soon get swept up in the excitement anyway. The rest of the performance is just as magnificent but I must especially single out the finale and the famous trumpets as the Flying Dutchman mentioned. It is almost unbelievable that this was just one take. Reiner whips up the orchestra into a frenzy and when the great oceanic surge returns at the end you just sit there and think this is what classical music is really about!
The Song of the Nightingale is a fantastic companion piece - something much more modern and acerbic - played even better than Dorati's Mercury performance.
The sound is overwhelming and apocalyptic, though there is no disguising that this is a recording of 45 year-old strings. I just love the orchestral presentation of these old RCA and Mercury discs - right in your face with nowhere to hide! As I think Chris said in a review of one of the other of these series compare this with the new Chailly Mahler SACDs - they just sound distant and small-scaled in comparison.

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Review by Fused June 16, 2005 (5 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I got to know Scheherezade from this recording (albeit on a less than perfect RCA Camden Classics pressing in the Seventies) and always had a great deal of affection for it. However, for me, Reiner's interpretation now seems a little too coolly observed. Certainly it is exciting (a perfect balance between precision and exoticism, the playing of the Chicago Symphony peerless), but Reiner's emotional detachment robs the music of much of it's poetry.

I don't think the sound quality helps either (this probably a reflection of the original master tape, rather than the SACD medium itself). In it's two channel incarnation (I can't comment on the multi-channel layer, not having suitable equipment) the general sound picture seems too closely observed and cramped (passages for the full string section don't open and expand in the way they should). Loud passages are congested too.

Now I admit Scheherezade isn't Rimsky's greatest work (interestingly, given the Stravinsky coupling here, a more illuminating example of his oeuvre, is The Tale of Tsar Sultan suite. In that wonderful score you also realise how much Stravinsky learnt from his old teacher and subsequently used in his early works) but in a great performance and recording it comes alive and is delightful. I would suggest Enrique Batiz with the Phiharmonia on Naxos, a slightly untidy final movement apart.


Reiner's Stravinsky Song of the Nightingale coupling is more acceptable, although the recorded balance is still a bit close (less objectionable in the context of this work). I did however find it rhythmically a little ponderous in comparison with my reference recording Charles Dutoit on Decca.

Overall then I think this release is a little disappointing and the supposed advantages of the SACD medium not particularly well demonstrated.

Oh, and lest anyone thinks I'm not a Reiner/ RCA fan, let me point out I think his recording of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta are things of wonder not only artistically but technically!!!!

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Review by Ivymike August 3, 2005 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The past reissues of this warhorse have all sounded pretty good, close to that on the original Shaded Dog. The sound quality is famous as is the performance. Personally, I feel that there are better interpretations. This is a score to have fun with, to "go nuts" with, but Reiner doesn't really do that. Stokowski's Phase 4 recording on London (available as a reissue on the Calla label with outtakes of Stokowski rehearsing the LSO; fascinating stuff, that) has more energy, and the very best I've heard, albeit in creaky, direct-to-disc sound, is Monteux conducting the San Fransisco Symphony in a performance from 1942. It is hard to sit still through the last, it's so energetic. I don't find that to be true with Reiner's performance; it is good but not fantastic.

The sound is superb. Recorded on 3-track, 15 ips tape in early 1960, it is hard to believe a recording of this vintage can sound so...right. Tape hiss is minimal, and although the close miking precludes a true pp dynamic the fff climaxes in the last movement are hair-raising, with recording levels pushed as high as possible without overload setting in, as it does so audibly in the Stokowski/Phase 4 version mentioned above. Imaging is excellent, with the strings spread out beyond the outside edges of the loudspeakers. As usual with this series, the center channel actually seems to help the width of the soundstage, something I'd not expected. The sound of Orchestra Hall, Chicago is beautifully defined; just listen to the decay of massed orchestral sound!

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Review by JW September 6, 2006 (3 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
For many this is the recording pinacle in the LS series. My take is that it is indeed in the top 5 of the discs I have heard (I own 16). But it cannot score full stars in my view. There are modern recordings that sound better. There is just not that free top-end extension and complete absence of strain and congestion at the high notes produced by massed strings and flutes that are the hallmark of top flight classical recordings of orchestral music. Sure, my system/room/ear does play a role, but I have reference discs that do not display these treats. I have also heard warmer string sound (that I tend to prefer) and more of that special violin timbre. I think this LS series is absolutely fantastic in all aspects. But there are obvious limitations to which we cannot turn a blind ...eh... eye :-)

Jw

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Review by threerandot April 12, 2008 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Fritz Reiner leads the Chicago Symphony in what is considered by many to be one of the definitive interpretations of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. The disc also features Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale.

This is a recording that has gathered a lot of favor over the years and I decided I would get a copy and see what was so special about it. I do find that there seems to be a lack of colorful playing in much of this disc, since the recording seems to be a little on the dry side to my ears. The third movement (The Young Prince and The Young Princess) is more colorful and is beautifully played. I just wish the winds weren't quite so dry sounding. The Brass is impressive if a little harsh in the fortes. Strings come through more pleasingly though.

Reiner's is a somewhat more calculated interpretation of Scheherazade than I would really like, but there is still plenty of excitement in what he does. I just wish there was more atmosphere to this performance.

The Song of the Nightingale is an interesting fill up with lots of fun playing. I appreciate the recording of this work, but I don't find myself listening to this disc that often. I wish Reiner was willing to take a little more time in building his climaxes and that the performances were a little more relaxed than they are. I also wish the sound didn't seem quite so close to the orchestra as it is.

Still, there are many who love this disc and the playing is impressive. I just wish the performances had more emotion to them. The sound as I said is a little too dry and close for my liking. Recommended with reservations.

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Review by toddao April 12, 2008 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
When I read on this site about an exciting Mahler 6 from Gergiev,yesterday, I decided to play the only SACD of his in my collection, one of my first buys, his Philips'Sheherazade.The recording was as bad as I remembered it and the performance pretty average. Slower speeds than I would have thought given his reputation. I then had to play the only other version in my library, Reiners' Living Stereo 3 track.

It was as vivid a performance and recording as I had remembered and I couldn't disgree more with Threeandot.Lacking in emotion and the recording too dry. No way. It's edge of the seat stuff, dramatic and exciting and lyrical where it needs to be. The recording, rich and golden with no artifical highlighting of the "soloists". A good sense of depth adds to make this , as far as I am concerned, a must buy and addition to any library of this repertoire.

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Review by Normsmeboy January 16, 2013 (1 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Reiner's interpretation of Scheherazade is interesting, I like its dynamic impact on the listener and the sound quality clearly very good, and so and from that point of view I would perhaps recommend it. However, my overall enjoyment was somewhat marred by the fact that I have grown up with the Thomas Beecham/Royal Philharmonic version which I find a beautiful interpretation where both conductor and musicians work as one and you become almost lost in the music.
In contrast Mr Reiner version sounds a bit like he is in a hurry to catch a bus!

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Review by Steve Steckel February 8, 2013 (3 of 17 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This performance has, for me, been the best of the recorded performances until recently. I first had this performance on a 331/3 album. Then a cd. Then an XRCD, Then the SACD currently under discussion. Now, I think it has been surpassed, at least as far as the sonics and maybe the performance, by a DVD with Neemi Jarvi conducting the Berlin Philharmonic at the Waldbuhn on Euroarts. The sound is in three choices PSB stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1. There are several other works on this disc and Sheherazade four movements are split. This is not a problem for me but, may be to others. I am certainly not going to throw away this SACD but, this DVD is now my favorite recorded performance.

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