Rimsky-Korsakov / Christmas Eve Suite / Ansermet – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

This Blueback original pressing has EXCELLENT Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides, with both sides earning grades of A+ to A++. The sound is rich and Tubey Magical in the finest tradition of London / Decca.

The Christmas Eve suite takes up the entire first side, with three shorter pieces comprising the second. Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations, much like those found on his wonderful Scheherazade, are pure audiophile ear candy from first note to last.

Side One

This side one had top end extension, good presence and clarity, all qualities that are often in short supply on old classical pressings such as these.

We were also impressed with the depth of the soundstage and the textured strings. This copy however was not quite as full-bodied and powerful down low as the best we played.

Side Two

Even more transparent and high-rez than side one. The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds make this a very special pressing indeed.

The horns are somewhat smeary and can get a bit congested when loud. There is more compression on this side two than there was on the best copy we played, and that means low level detail is superb, but louder parts, such as when the brass comes in, can get problematical.

Note how good The Flight of the Bumble Bee sounds here. Compression is helping bring out all the ambience and detail in the recording, and there’s no downside because the orchestra is playing softly, unlike the piece that precedes it. In other words, it’s a classic tradeoff.

Christmas Eve Suite

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his opera Christmas Eve during the period 1894-1895, and it was premiered during the latter year. In 1903, he extracted this suite, which contains about a half-hour’s worth of music from the opera. What is confusing to some listeners about the work is that it is often broken down in concert programs and on recordings into five, six, or as many as nine sections, with translations of the individual numbers that can vary widely.

The lovely music in the “Introduction,” first heard on the horn, sets the stage for the Romantic character of the score here. The lively and playful music from the “Games and Dances of the Stars” is charming, as is the “Round Dance,” which reprises the theme from the opening. The “Czardas” is joyous and, as so often with Rimsky-Korsakov’s works, brilliantly and colorfully orchestrated. The “Devil’s Kolyada” is sinister, but ultimately its menace has an almost fairy tale-like lightness. The Polonaise is graceful and stately and the “Procession to Midnight Mass” is absolutely lovely and quite memorable, with the gently tolling bells deftly adding to the serene atmosphere at the quiet close.

In the end, the music here is light and colorful, not as exotic as Shéhérazade or the Capriccio espagnol, but still with ethnic flavors and featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s usual brilliant scoring.

All Music Guide


Side One

The Christmas Eve Suite

Side Two

The Flight of the Bumble Bee