The attraction here is a budget issue of colorful Rimsky-Korsakov selections played by the famous Philharmonia Orchestra, one of the greatest orchestras of its time. The conductors are something of a mixture, but all could deliver an above average performance, and Cluytens, Kletzki, and Kurz were known for bringing a lighter, more transparent touch to their music-making, which fits this music quite nicely. Along with the lack of heavy-handed noise, they all show a great deal of vivacity in leading this luxury band through its paces.
The mixture of conductors doesn't seem to cause any great havoc to the music - a Cluytens version of The Flight of the Bumblebee from 1958 fills in a gap in the 1960 Kletzi recording of the Tsar Sultan Suite. This is follow by a good if not thrilling reading of the Russian Easter Overture under von Matacic, a recording which never falls into bombast, a problem not uncommon with this work, thanks in large part to his distinquished orchestra, which seems largely impeccable and quite unflappable in the busiest, loudest sections. This is not my favorite piece of music, so perhaps my lack of extra enthusiasm doesn't do this Seraphim version justice. I suspect Stokowski is the right man for this music - See Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Russian Easter Overture
Efrem Kurtz leads the orchestra in Rimsky's late music from his last opera, "The Golden Cockerel". Recorded in 1963 the general effect here is of a major orchestra miked rather centrally, with no efforts at excessive spotlighting, as is too often the case in such showpieces. The horn solos are not the best I've heard, but some of the other solos are superbly done, and the single instruments sound in balance with the overall orchestra's volume, rather than suddenly boosted. The strings remain enchanting, and the natural transparency of Rimsky's music is marvelously diplayed without trickery. Again, there are more in your face performances, especially in the most up-to-date recordings, but for the sense of off-hand ease the Philharmonia conveys at all times as they traverse the music...pretty impressive.
Throughout these selections we can hear the inroads of a large number of alien musical influences on the music of a composer who has already mastered his craft to a fare-thee-well. Notable are definite concessions in his string writing to the sounds of the Wagner orchestra. It's clear Rimsky had also been following the music of that turn of the century enfant terrible, Strauss. Wild, evocative solos burst forth from seemingly nowhere throughout the music for "The Golden Cockerel".
The last selection is the famous "Capriccio Espagnol". Cluytens leads a crisp well-played reading, with some excellent solo work. However, this falls short of the brilliant reading under Kondrashin. (Including several other very well done selections - Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Kabalevsky: The Comedians; Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien; Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol / Kondrashin
These are excellent examples of Rimsky-Korsakov's skill as orchestrator, and the Capriccio is a genuine small masterpiece. The reason one would chose this Cd set over another has to be the orchestra - a superb ensemble, here showing how good they are with an insouciant ease. Whether the Cd deserves five stars or four depends on how much you like hearing the Philharmonia at near its best. Given the budget price, I think five stars is not unreasonable and happily recommend it.