One major popular composer of Romantic orchestral music whose work, outside of his ubiquitous symphonic suite Scheherazade, is not terribly over-recorded is Russia's Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. That, and a tendency toward what for him was an "orientalist" strain in harmonic practice and orchestration, makes Rimsky-Korsakov an ideal choice for the recordings on BIS of a relatively new ensemble, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1997 by conductor Kees Bakels. It is a testament to the skill of Bakels as an orchestra builder that he has raised such a fine musical organization in just eight years. Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol is intended as a follow-up to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra's recording of Scheherazade, already issued, and as an added bonus, the great Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa joins the orchestra as guest in Rimsky-Korsakov's all-too-seldom-heard Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 30.
The music, recorded at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Hall in Kuala Lumpur, is both very well played and recorded. The Capriccio Espagnol gets off to a great start, with Bakels the orchestra is strongly sympathetic to the piece, though careful ears can pick out some raggedy ensemble in the last section. Ogawa alone is enough to make the Piano Concerto shine, and thankfully Bakels provides comfortable and gracious support to Ogawa's magisterial artistry. BIS has saved the best for last, as the performances of the Sadko Musical Picture, Op. 5, (in its second incarnation) and the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36, are fantastic. Fans of Rimsky-Korsakov's popular "The Flight of the Bumble-Bee" will delight in its original context as part of the suite The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Op. 57.
Fanciers of the rarefied, perfumed, and colorful realm of Rimsky-Korsakov will find much to savor with BIS' Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol. While there are a couple of decent recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov's Piano Concerto around, this one with Ogawa is probably the best made in digital sound. This, among other positive attributes, should be more than enough to warrant a top recommendation.