September 2001

Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, cond.
Telarc CD-80568
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Written in 1888, near the conclusion of Rimsky-Korsakov’s life, Scheherazade (together with the Russian Easter Overture, also included on this disc) seemed to sum up everything that he had learned during his lifetime. As he put it himself in his memoirs, these two pieces "close a period of my work, at the end of which my orchestration had attained a considerable degree of virtuosity and warm sonority." I couldn’t agree more.

Robert Spano settles into the opening movement ("The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship") slowly, almost languidly. It almost feels as though Sinbad is stuck in the Sargasso Sea. But the performance never drags to a complete stop -- it has just enough momentum to keep you listening, never reaching for the remote. But when they reach the second movement ("The Tale Of The Kalendar Prince"), Spano and the ASO convey a depth and passion that eluded them in the opening movement. Spano and the orchestra then build on that foundation to produce a stunning climax to the movement. The shame is, they didn't maintain that impassioned level throughout the balance of the disc. While the rest is acceptably good, it’s not going to render any other versions you may already own obsolete.

The sound, however, is another story. Once again, Telarc uses the DSD recording process to it fullest advantage. The soundstage spreads out before you, wide and deep. Each soloist stands out from the rest of the orchestra -- properly, as a soloist who is a part of a larger ensemble, and not a larger-than-life musician in front of a toy orchestra. There is nice instrumental separation, and the dynamic contrasts are excellent. My only complaint is that Telarc plans to use this DSD recording to release a multichannel surround sound SACD disc -- feh.

On this recording of Scheherazade, Telarc has brought lovers of this composition an excellent recording -- one that comes as close to the quality boundaries of standard CD as is possible today. As to whether or not Spano's interpretation suits you, well, that will be up to you to decide. While it does not surpass Reiner’s RCA (but then, what does?), it does hold its own with any of the more recent issues.