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CD Review

Rimsky-Korsakoff & Stravinsky

Bastille Opera Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
Deutsche Grammophon 437818-2 63min
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Chung's breezy, episodic, and superficial Schéhérazade is almost totally devoid of personality or drama – elements which abound in Beecham's (EMI) and Reiner's (RCA) ancient, but nonetheless serviceable recordings. Beecham invests each measure of the score with magic, while Reiner somehow always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat with his mercurial interpretation. Chung is clearly incapable of either, and as a result he transforms this usually foolproof work into pleasant, if inconsequential background music. I do like the splendid playing of the Bastille orchestra, but Chung's interpretation leaves me as cold as an Antarctic breeze. If you must have all-digital sound, the Temirkanov (RCA) is equally well played, and his joyous reading is a real treat. Mackerras's brisk and bracing version (Telarc) is also preferable, though neither is as compelling as Beecham or Reiner.

Chung is at his best in the quieter, more reflective moments of the Firebird Suite, particularly the 'Ronde des princesses', which he invests with a sensuous, tender, and lyrical character, finally demonstrating that he knows how to properly phrase a melody and bring out its inherent beauty. Kashchei's dance which follows, however, is much too refined and stiff to sound appropriately "infernal". Both Temirkanov (RCA) and, to a lesser extent, Zinman (Telarc) find more mystery and wonder in Stravinsky's score.

DG's outstandingly clear, open, and detailed "4D" sonics were wasted on these ordinary and undistinguished performances.

Copyright © 1996, Thomas Godell