Once you’ve cottoned on that Vasily Petrenko isn’t going to sensationalise and be an interventionist on behalf of this hat-trick of Rimsky-Korsakov favourites (Opuses 34-36) then there is much to relish, not least superb playing from the Oslo Philharmonic and demonstration sound quality, story-telling and description left to the outreach of Rimsky’s powerful/vivid musical invention and superb scoring.
There are versions of Russian Easter Festival Overture (placed second here) that find greater gravitas than this, but Petrenko and his players have the expressive measure of the prayerful and solemn opening; and, from 4:30, invest much ebullience and fine detailing and dynamics; notable solo contributions, too, not least from the principal trombonist.
In Scheherazade concertmaster Elise Båtnes has no need for female impersonation as the named one; with silky tone she seductively spins some cracking yarns that spread through the Oslo Phil members with zeal and poeticism, not least her first-chair colleagues – whether describing storms at sea, derring-do or love – the highlight is an eloquent and glowing ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’. There are times when I wished for greater projection of certain particulars (climactic piccolo in the first movement, side drum in the final one, for example) but they are all present and correct, and the performance as a whole is refreshingly unsullied without ever being dull or contemptuous of the music’s familiarity.
Given it’s the opener, perhaps Lawo also thinks that Capriccio espagnol is the best thing here. Scintillating and shapely, with something saved for a Gold Medal dash to the finishing post, this crowned my listening. Lawo Classics LWC1198.