Sunday , February 5 2023
curtis symphony scheherazade

Music Review: New Label from Curtis School of Music Debuts with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’

Curtis Studio, the label just launched by the Curtis School of Music, makes a proud debut with a fine recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s timeless Scheherazade. The students of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, display impressive sensitivity and assurance in this beloved showpiece.

The first section, evoking the sea, introduces concertmaster Matthew Hakkarainen’s deft and delicately emotional playing and the musicians’ confidence in exposed passages generally. Maestro Vänskä sturdily leads them through the buildups of excitement. A few subtleties of interplay sound very slightly smudged in the louder passages, and the violins as a group aren’t quite the precision machine of a top-tier orchestra’s section. But the spirit and flavors of the music – framed by those indelible themes, of course – come through.

A Vivid Telling Worthy of Scheherazade the Master Storyteller Herself

The hypnotic “Tale of Prince Kalendar” features several excellent soloists – oboe, horn, violin again, and more. As the individual instrumentalists shine, so do the sections, bringing out the music’s dynamic expressiveness and shots of rhythm. The ever-shifting feels and tempos demand and receive sustained focus and alertness. Maestro Vänskä has evidently conveyed to the students, and drawn from them (or rather with them), the music’s vivid pictorial drama.

“The Young Prince and the Princess” features fine work from the woodwinds, tasteful harp from Claire Thai, smoothly flowing unison melodies, and impressive work both skittering and romantic from Hakkarainen. A close listen can reveal tiny imprecisions in synchrony at a few entrances. But all in all the performance is a delight.

A Shining Debut

The final movement is designated with the long descriptive title “Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman.” It’s a great, crashing wrap-up of all that has come before. The performance features fine playing from many corners of the orchestra, including impressive togetherness on the many sequences of sixteenth-note triplets. (It seems that double tonguing is no sweat for Curtis’ trumpeters.) In the stormy “shipwreck” section it’s easy to imagine hearing the wind and the lashing of the waves, while the becalmed ending sounds quite magical.

This Scheherazade was no doubt an important learning experience for the student musicians. For listeners this recording is a creditable account of a work that, while often heard, bears a close listen even if you think you know it well. It repays such a listen, and is an exciting start for the Curtis Studio label.

This digital-only release is available at the major streaming services, with video from the performance available on Apple Music.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases in various genres. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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Osmo Vänskä conducts the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in the recording session for Curtis Studio's debut release, 'Scheherazade.'

Curtis Institute of Music Launches Record Label, Curtis Studio

The new record label will feature performances by Curtis alumni, faculty, and students and will start out big with Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Scheherazade.'