RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  The Maid of Pskov (Ivan the Terrible) Suite.  Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh Suite. Fairy Tale (Skazka), Op. 29.  Fantasia on Serbian Themes, Op. 6
Moscow Symphony Orch/Igor Golovchin, cond.

NAXOS 8.553513 (B) (DDD) TT: 72:40

 Neemi J”rvi's Scottish National Orchestra Chandos set of suites from Rimsky-Korsakov operas, issued in 1984, is still in the catalog—three scantily-filled full-price CDs when the entire contents (149') would have fit onto two. Jarvi's recording contains music from only seven of the composer's fifteen operas. This Naxos CD offers music from two, the usual suite from Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (Prelude: A Hymn to Nature; Wedding Procession; Tatar invasion and battle of Kerzhenets; Death of "Fevroniya and Apotheosis of the Invisible City), and a suite from The Maid of Pskov, also known as Ivan the Terrible. The latter was an opera "in progress" for 25 years; you can hear the final version on an extraordinary Philips Kirov recording conducted by Valery Gergiev (446 678).  The orchestral suite has five movements (Overture before the Prologue; and four Entr'actes (Olga, The Assembly, Street Scene and Pyechorsky Monastery). It's strange the most popular orchestral excerpt from the opera, identified as Prelude to Act III and recorded twice by Leopold Stokowski (1939 Philadelphia Orch; 1976 National Phil), is not included in the suite recorded here.

Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh is better known, particularly for the vivid battle sequence and Fevronia's  love music. Fantasia on Serbian Themes was written on instructions of Balakirev, who gave Korsakov  themes to use. Skazka is yet another example of Korsakov's colorful orchestration depicting the sounds of the forest, a mythical bird, a water-nymph and the witch Baba Yaga.

Orchestral colors and rich sounds are essential to these scores—unfortunately the Moscow Symphony does not provide them. The orchestra seems undersized, particularly in the string department, accentuated by the rather dry, analytical sound. Performances, too, are little more than playing the notes. Even at budget price this CD is of limited interest. Rimsky-Korsakov's music deserves a first-class orchestra  conducted perhaps by Svetlanov or Temirkanov and, of course, appropriate recorded sound quality to convey its opulence.

R.E.B. (March 2001)