Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherezade: Capriccio Espagnol
Based on an old set of Persian folktales, the suite concerns Shahriyar, a sultan who was pretty unpleasant individual. Every day he married a new wife and every day he executed a previous one, because he had once been betrayed by a lover. Scheherazade was the vizier's daughter who was set to be his wife and had to entertain him with a story. Every night she told him a story and if it pleased him he would let her live until the next night, and another story. Scheherazade kept it up for 1001 and one nights. According to one version of the legend, she waited until her hero came back to slay the wicked sultan and rescue her. According to another the Sultan became enamoured of her and decided to keep her as his wife instead of having her killed.
Rimsky-Korsakov takes the legend and weaves some magical musical moments around some of those stories. Sindbad is in here, as is the Prince of Kalandar and part of the tale of the adventures of Aladdin in Baghdad. The music is captivating and has the power to transport you to the scene of the story. Just listen to the opening bars of "The Sea and Sindbad's Ship" and you are there, in a dhow, sailing across a stormy sea. In this day and age we all to often tend to forget the power of music and music alone, without lyrics, to draw vivid pictures in the mind. Listen to this and you will recapture that feeling.
Since its premiere in 1888, the Scheherazde suite has gone on to become one of the most popular pieces of orchestral music. And it is not hard to see why. It has a noticeable rhythm flowing throughout, which makes it rather different from many other classical pieces of the late nineteenth-century. In addition, it has something of the Oriental mystery about it in terms of the musical score. Finally, it has a feel to it, or maybe this is my opinion, which has a touch of modernity about it, making it one of the more accessible pieces of Romantic classical music. It also helps in that it is probably reasonably familiar to many people so listening to it should not come as so much of trial as some people feel that other classical music does.
Cappricio Espagnol is, by comparison, something of a disappointment. It is not my favourite piece of classical music, being a little too distant for me. It certainly does not have the grace and evocative effect of the Scheherezade suite. Based on a collection of Spanish folktales, originally intended to be a solo violin with orchestral backing. Later it was rewritten as a purely orchestral piece. It has some lively melodies and is notable for its extensive use of percussion. Its inclusion in this compilation has the overall effect of dragging the rating down a bit, which is a shame because this otherwise excellent album deserves more attention.
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