I always find Rimsky-Korsakov's music fascinating. And this collection of suites from three of his operas is a most refreshing change from his over-played, over-recorded Sheherazade. Oh, I love his most famous piece dearly. But what a life-enriching/enhancing experience to hear some of his other, lesser-known music, which is just as rich in inspiration and melodic flow as it is in colorful orchestration. Make no mistake, this is certainly not inferior, or second-rate, Rimsky!
Not only does Rimsky deliver in every way, so does Pletnev. I'm not always a big fan of Pletnev as a conductor (and found it completely unnecessary to re-record the Tchaikovsky Symphonies for Pentatone), but he is obviously inspired to majestic heights by this lesser-known music from one of the supreme composers of his homeland. And the fabulous Russian National Orchestra certainly rises to the occasion and rewards him with playing of the finest caliber. Challenged with something excitingly different from the usual, ho-hum standard repertoire, they come alive in a way rare even for them. Their playing here is fully equal to that heard in the cracking, exhilarating (first) collection of Russian Overtures Pletnev recorded with them in 1993 for DG. And Pentatone's recording is even finer than that spectacular DG CD, with SACD sound of amazing dynamic range, stunning dramatic power, and sensuous, richly luxurious refinement when called for. It is simply glorious, even in good old-fashioned 2-channel stereo SACD.
Incidentally, I found it interesting to hear a much different sound-world here than Pentatone provides for Kazuki Yamada and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Both orchestras sound splendid as recorded by the Pentatone team, but the slightly brighter, more impactful presence heard this all-Russian program (which, interestingly, was recorded in the Netherlands) brings an extra frisson of bite and energy which suits this music - and Pletnev - perfectly. However, at the same time, it is also more luxurious and spacious than the brightly lit, forward sound DG provided in 1993. As spectacular as that DG disc is, it can be a little fatiguing when listening straight through at realistic volumes.
I was surprised to discover this 2010 Pentatone disc sitting on my shelves collecting dust, all but forgotten. Well, listening to it (again), I was completely bowled over by its impact and dramatic immersion into the very distinctive, gorgeous sound-world of Rimsky-Korsakov. I'm so glad it caught my attention today! And I wish Pentatone would encourage this conductor/orchestra to record more innovative and interesting repertoire like this, rather than re-recording more Tchaikovsky. This is a disc not to be missed!