Since refurbishing the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2011, Peter Oundjian has introduced nine new principals, so Sheherazade is as good a calling card as any. Certainly they play well together as an orchestral team, and the soloists come forwards with well-placed contributions in Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourful score. They are led by a beguiling solo violin for Sheherazade’s seductive story introductions. What is so far missing is the capacity for the conductor to entrust more to the players, to allow a freer hand in the solos that step forwards out of the orchestral clamour, and at the same time a greater urgency in the attack. One remembers the freedom which Beecham always entrusted, together with the whiplash onslaught he could draw from the full orchestra.
Nevertheless, this as a good performance, scrupulously recorded (with the exception of one patch in the third movement, when the violin is too dominating). The opening movement, describing the sea and Sinbad’s ship, is a little leisurely for the fabulously adventurous sailor (if one allows Rimsky-Korakov’s somewhat ambiguous account in his autobiography of how much he meant his original descriptions to operate). But there is an excellent start to the second movement, when the bassoon is directed to play capriciously and as if telling a tale, and at the same time confidingly and expressively. The Toronto soloist (named in the orchestra list as Michael Sweeney) does this quirkily and with a free hand. The lyrical third movement is elegantly handled, with gracefully skirling instrumental interventions. With the fourth movement, there is more aggressive orchestral attack, and the piece comes off well. This is perhaps the most successsful of the four movements in a well-turned performance.