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BIPO, Sascha Goetzel - Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

BBC Music Magazine, September 2014 edition

5 stars

'If you doubted the need for another recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's oriental spectacular , this disc should change your mind. The Istanbul team's playing has something of the gutsiness of the old Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra recordings under Loris Tjeknavorian, but with a greater sophistication of orchestral colour and a firm guiding hand from principal conductor Sascha Goetzel.

You'll be gripped from the first resonant trombone proclamation of the blood thirsty Sultan Shahriar right through to the final victory of his resourceful Sheherazade, leader Pelin Halkaci Akin superlative to the last . He's even accompanied in the Sultana's recitatives not by the usual harp, but by a Qanun, an oriental lute , played by the consummate Hakan Gungor, who slips in two pertinent improvisation after the first and third movements. The solos in 'The Tales of the Kalendar Prince' are characterful too, crowned by a magical first flautist. And the articulation of the finale's whirl - one of the greatest symphonic movements of its kind- would be impressive even from one of the world's accepted top orchestras'

The Arts Desk

There’s enormous pleasure to be had when an over-familiar, hackneyed work receives a belter of a performance. Hearing a piece as if for the first time is a rare treat, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade emerges pristine on this new disc. It’s played by Sacha Goetzel’s enterprising Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic with style and conviction. Goetzel’s greatest achievement is to knit the disparate elements together so effectively, and the suite has rarely sounded so symphonic and well-constructed. Rimsky-Korsakov’s knack with a tune can work against him, but Scheherazade is tautly and neatly constructed. Which isn’t to say that Goetzel conducts the work as if it’s Brahms. Sit back and marvel at the effortless control – the swelling grandeur of the first movement’s big melody, every repetition bigger, more colourful. Check out the swooning high cellos in the final minutes. Prefacing the second and fourth movements with the traditional sounds of the oud and the qanun (traditional Arabic variants of the lute and zither) isn’t a gimmick, serving instead to reinforce the exoticism of the orchestral writing. The slow third movement is deliciously sultry, and the Festival of Baghdad is riotous in all the right places. Pelin Halkaci’s violin solos aren’t unnecessarily spotlit. It’s splendid, in other words.

As are the couplings. Lyapunov’s exuberant transcription of Balakirev’s Islamey isn’t heard enough, and rarer still are two of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches. In this recording, a Turkish ney flute plays the cor anglais solo opening In a Village, and there’s augmented percussion in the Procession of the Sardar. Both are irresistible, and there’s a bonus in the form of Turkish composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin’s spectacular, rhythmically quirky Köçekçe: dance rhapsody for orchestra. Good production values and neat artwork too.