Rimsky-Korsakov Symphonies Nos 1 and 2
This is the third of a trio of issues from BIS collecting the principal orchestral works of Rimsky-Korsakov. It may still seem surprising that Kuala Lumpur, for all its oil riches, should spawn an orchestra of such unmistakable international quality as the Malaysian Philharmonic. Founded as recently as 1998, it was built up by the music director, Kees Bakels, drawing on 105 players from many different countries. They work from their home-base, a concert hall set between the two Petronas Towers, the tallest buildings in the world. Here in the two less well known symphonies of Rimsky-Korsakov (Antar was earlier coupled with Scheherazade, 1/04) Bakels offers performances of admirable point and refinement.
Bakels’s readings may be less weighty than those of Neeme Järvi and Dmitri Kitaenko but the playing is consistently a degree more refined, particularly that of the strings. So in the Symphony No 1, a student work well revised by the mature composer, the extra lightness and clarity of the new version more than compensates for any lack of weight or romantic warmth. In the slow movement of No 3, tender in its delicate phrasing, Bakels makes his rivals seem a little square, and consistently his sharpness of attack and fine control of dynamic contrasts reflect the high standards these players have achieved. The Scherzo movements in particular are superbly done, with the 5/4 rhythms of that in No 3 delectably pointed.
The Fantasia on Serbian Themes makes an attractive supplement, not included in either rival set. Starting with a warm horn solo, it leads up to an Allegro which inspires Bakels to a sparkling performance, again with light and clear textures. Like the First Symphony, it is a prentice work directly prompted by Rimsky’s early mentor, Balakirev, but it certainly earns its place. Clear, well balanced recording with air round the sound.