Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture and Capriccio Espagnol

Let's briefly reprise my favorite classical music quote about Rimsky-Korsakov:

"The works of Rimsky-Korsakov music may be conveniently divided into two groups: the overplayed and the unknown."
--Richard Taruskin, author, The Oxford History of Western Music (6 Volume Set)

And now that we've already covered three "unknown"works by this composer, it's time to listen to two of the "overplayed" ones. Today we'll cover the Russian Easter Festival Overture and the Capriccio Espagnol, and at last we'll have finished off this amazing two-CD set of Rimsky-Korsakov's works.
Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Three Symphonies; Capriccio Espagnol; Russian Easter Festival Overture
Deutsche Grammophon, 1988

Listener notes:
Russian Easter Festival Overture:
1) The slightly out of tune oboe solos in the early minutes of the work detracts from the performance. The oboe, much like the clarinet, can be a mournful and beautiful instrument when played well. When played even slightly poorly however, it can be highly distracting. There's just not a lot of room for error with this instrument.

2) Once again, R-K uses unusual, as well as varying, meters during this composition. Portions of it are in 5/2 time, other portions are in 2/1 and 3/1 time.

3) How about at the 12:30 mark when the tubas and trombones come in with a ponderous rendering of the primary theme? The tuba player must have lungs the size of a refrigerator.

4) The final minute of this work might be one of the most rousing minutes in all of classical music. no wonder this work is among the "overplayed" of Rimsky-Korsakov's works.

Capriccio Espagnol:
1) My favorite movement is the second (Variazioni), with the opening melody by the french horn section, transferring to the strings, and then to a call and response between the english horn, a french horn and an answering muted french horn (a side note: the english horn is one of classical music's most illogically named instruments. A reeded instrument, it is neither English, nor a horn!).

2) The last couple of minutes of the second movement simply washes over the audience with wave after wave and layer after layer of sound. What is it about these Russian composers that gives them the ability to compose such gripping music?

3) Interesting effects with the clarinet runs in the last few seconds of the third movement.

4) I'm sure even novice classical music listeners will recognize the opening bars of the fourth movement. And does the ensuing violin solo remind you at all of Scheherazade? It should. Next, how about that flute solo, ending in (for a flute at least) a rippingly loud high note?

5) Unlike R-K's symphonies, which were neither technically nor physically difficult to play, the Capriccio Espagnol has some extremely difficult (as well as unusual) parts for several different instruments.

6) And the rousing finish to the fifth movement (Fandango Asturiano) is guaranteed to bring any classical music audience leaping out of their seats. No wonder it's a staple of the symphonic repertoire.


Laura Perrin said...

Bravo! Your detailed writing helps bring the music to life. Thank you for a wonderful post!

Daniel Koontz said...

Thanks Laura. You're my biggest fan! :)