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CD Review

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff

  • Schéhérazade, Op. 35
  • Overture "Russian Easter Festival", Op. 36
Erich Gruenberg, violin
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1975)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1968)
RCA Red Seal 82876 65843 2
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For Christmas last year I bought myself a digital camera. I was absolutely amazed by the thing. I could now take almost stupid-proof pictures. If there was too much dark I could lighten it. If it was too bright I could darken it. I could improve the resolution and remove red-eye.

The recorded sound of a performance changes the experience much like the digital camera does. I have two different CD recordings of Stokowski's London Symphony Beethoven's 9th (which was my first record of the piece). Originally I got the Japanese "King" recording. In 1997 London/Decca came out with a version in this country. I was stunned. The experience left me emotionless. I wondered if it was just me, so I pulled out the earlier incarnation and, sure enough, the "King" remasterings were better. There was more detail, a firm bass line. The earlier release kept me involved in the process but the latter was just plain dull.

I was thinking of these things whilst working on the review of this latest Stokowski release of Schéhérazade. Previously I had felt that this RPO account was a disappointment, especially in light of the London Symphony recording on Decca/London. What has happened? Perhaps you have noticed that American beer has no body. Body is what was missing from the previous incarnation. Other words that appeared in my notes were: more perspective, depth, soloists are more detailed which means that there is more of a dialogue. Gruenberg's Schéhérazade now has the seductive, sensitive beauty that was missing in the earlier release. The bass line is clearer and 'felt'. This is a different recording in every sense of the word. There has been a transformation from dull to fantastic. A critic once said that if any music had been written for Stokowski surely Schéhérazade was it. This recording now joins the others as an instance of that.

If you have the previous release, part of the Stokowski Stereo Series from RCA, you must add this one to it; in effect replace it. If you have not heard Stokowski's Schéhérazade you have not really heard all of the music. This disc is a must and not just for aficionados of Stokowski's music making.

All of these comments apply equally to the Russian Easter Overture with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The latest technology has done for this recording what the digital camera has done for my photography, made it much better.

Copyright © 2005, Robert Stumpf II