Antal Dorati / Minneapolis - Rimsky-Korsakov. Scheherazade - Mercury 1952

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov:
"Scheherazade",  Symphonic suite, op.35.      
I: The Sea & Sinbad's Ship  ~  II: The Tale of the Kalandar Prince
III:  The Young Prince & the Young Princess  ~
IV:  Festival of Baghdad.  The Sea.  The Ship goes to pieces on a Rock surmounted by a Bronze Warrior.  Conclusion.
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Rafael Druian, violin  - Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra  conducted by  Antal Dorati    
EMI / Mercury  MMA 11022   1959 re-issue.  (John Johnson  transfers).
Recorded: 27-29 April 1952 - Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis.
Re-edited January 2012  (so should now be 'near flawless')  sleeve-note (text) >>>

Of Rimsky-Korsakov's fifteen major orchestral works, the three most celebrated were put to-paper within the space of a single year -the Capriccio Espagnol in 1887, and in 1888 Scheherazade and the Russian Easter Overture. Had he written only these three masterpieces, Rimsky-Korsakov would still he renowned as the greatest tone colorist of his day. Here are none of the dark hues favored by the romantic German masters; instead we have an orchestral palette of incredible brightness and transparency -derived from Berlioz, Liszt and Glinka and enriched by the distinctive harmonic textures of Russian and Oriental folksong idiom. In a matter of a few years, the rising young French composers were to discover the intoxicating tonal delights of Rimsky-Korsakov and his other Russian colleagues, and this influence was to play a decisive role in the development of French music during the early 20th century.

Scheherazade is, of course, the name of the lovely narrator of the fabulous collection of The Thousand Nights and One Nights -the Arabian Nights tales by which the vengeful Sultan Shakriar was distracted from his avowed purpose of putting to death each one of his wives after the first night. After one thousand and one nights of absorbing tales from the lips of the steadfast and courageous Scheherazade, we are told that she and the Sultan lived on together in great happiness until "there took them the Destroyer of Delights and the Severer of Societies, the Desolator of dwelling places and Carnerer of graveyards, and they were translated into the truth of Almighty Allah."

The four sections of Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite consist in essence of poetic evocation rather than direct musical narrative, the titles of which provide ample springboard for the listener's imagination:

1. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship

11. The Tale of the Prince Kalandar

111. The Young Prince and the Young Princess

IV. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Goes to Pieces Against a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior. Conclusion.

The musical unity of the work as a whole is maintained by the recurrence and transformation of certain basic themes: The menacing proclamation of the very opening (said to represent the stern figure of the Sultan) provides the basis for the Sea music in the beginning and the end, and also plays an important part in the Festival at Bagdad episode. Each movement features also in its opening pages the celebrated solo violin passages evocative of Scheherazade in her role as narrator. That she has succeeded at long last in appeasing the Sultan is quite evident in the final measures of the score as we hear the once menacing regal theme transformed into one of tenderness and strength entwined by the ascending figuration of the solo violin.


Ever since the meteoric rise of Eugene Ormandy to the coveted post of Musical Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the assumption by Dimitri Mitropoulos of the conductorship of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, the post of conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra has come to be regarded as a major stepping stone to worldwide acclaim and recognition in the conductorial realm.

Antal Dorati, since he took over the direction of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1949, seems to be running true-to-form in this respect; for his leadership of the major orchestras of Europe has been hailed as "musical interpretation of Ithe highest order."

Despite the fact that he is still in his early 40's, Antal Dorati has behind him 25 years of baton experience, dating to the time when as an 18-year-old he was directing opera in his home city of Budapest, Hungary. Indeed, Dorati was the youngest musician to receive a degree from the Academy of Music there, where he numbered among his teachers the celebrated composers, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. His early years as a conductor encompassed work with Fritz Busch at the Dresden Opera, as well as experience on his own at Munster. In 1933 began an association with ballet, when he joined the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe. He continued to work with this and other ballet companies until 1945, when he was invited to be conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. It was Dorati's "ballet period" which gave birth to most of his delightful orchestral arrangements from the music of Johann Strauss (Graduation Ball) and Jacques Offenbach (Bluebeard, Helen of Troy). While at Dallas, Dorati also made a widely performed concert suite from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.

Although Antal Dorati had become known far and wide throughout this country through his many brilliant guest appearances, it was. his magnificent achievement at Dallas, where he reorganized and trained that city's orchestra to he one of the nation's finest, which led to the invitation to come to Minneapolis following the departure of Dimitri Mitropoulos for New York. In Minneapolis, Dorati is repeating on a broader scale the accomplishments of his Dallas days, bringing the Minneapolis Symphony to the highest peak of technical and musical perfection it has yet known in its nearly 50 years of existence.

Among the major orchestras of America, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra has had a particularly distinctive "personality"- in the sense that its style of performance and texture of sonority can be mistaken for no other. It is the zest of its rhythmic drive and the vital warmth of its lyrical playing which constitute the major factors in the collective personality of the Minneapolis ensemble. From the days of its founder-conductor, Emil Oberhoffer, through the period of leadership by Henry Verbrugghen, to the brilliant era of Ormandy, Mitropoulos and Antal Dorati, this "personality" of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra has been maturing, deepening and gaining added refinement and subtlety. It is this last pair of qualities that have been the special contribution of Antal Dorati, who as a conductor has a part`cular flair for eliciting from his players wonderful blendings of instrumental color and delicate dynamic gradations.

With this and the other recordings done by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra for the Olympian Series, Mercury Classics seeks to bring to the listening public a true representation of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra both as a performing organization and as a warndy vital "collective personality."


This recording was made in Northrop Memorial Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, home of the Minneapolis Symphony. As with all LIVING PRESENCE recordings, a single microphone was hung in optimum position and maintained there during the course of this recording, thus assuring actual control by Mr. Dorati at all times of the orchestral balance. Likewise, the Minneapolis Orchestra was arranged in normal concert position throughout the recording sessions.

Fairchild tape machines were used both for the original master tape recording and for the transfer from tape to disc. Cutting of the master discs was done with a Miller cutter mounted on a variable pitch Scully recording lathe - thus guaranteeing preservation on the finished record the full dynamic and frequency range captured on the original master tapes.

This Mercury LIVING PRESENCE recording was made possible through the use of MARGIN CONTROL, a technique whereby it has become possible for Mercury to produce for the record-buying public a disc of truly superior quality, especially with respect to brilliance, clarity, dynamic range and reliable stylus tracking.

A cardinal principal of Mercury's "Living Presence" recording technique is the use of an unusually wide dynamic range, which matches exactly the range from ppp to fff of the original musical performance; for at no lime during the recording sessions do the Mercury engineers tamper with the dynamic range of the music as recorded.


  1. Is true that Mercury used cinema (audio-video) 35mm tapes for recording only audio?

  2. http://www.soundfountain.com/amb/mercury.html gives a lot of info. These earlier Mercury were not recorded on 35mm though. David Hall did mention in a letter after the 'Gramophone' 1954 review for this recording - that Mercury Did alter the dynamic-range by 'lifting' quiet sounds.....

  3. Ah Frank...a wonderful Scheherazade, better then any of Dorati's stereo remakes...were there two? My lp is in sad shape and I thank you many times over for this transfer!


  4. A Nice Transfer too; though needing two edits in the first minute (which, being troublesome, delayed this from 2months ago) & possibly 'just' detectable - and a few Mercury edits (in the 'loud bits') which may be audible. Side 2 is also slightly less-well mastered - and has EMI stamper info; so presumably a 'made for UK' version. There is a later stereo Mercury. The performance is waaaaay better than the Gramophone review suggests - and no 'Lady Trombonists' as in Beecham's RPO version...

  5. Using Audacity to view the waveform on this transfer shows that the peaks have all been leveled, and the dynamic range has been severely reduced. This is a pity, since a major atraction of the early Mercuy issues was their extended dynamic range. Very nice cover scan, though.

  6. You may be aware that reduced-modulation copies were asked for by EMI - however side 1 of this is FR9 - the other carries EMI matrix coding - but with JJ (John Johnson) ID. I had expected there to be some difference (for example the Bartok LP is 'cut for EMI' - but the Kodaly was FR8 / FR4 - so, presumably, domestic USA release?) - but there isn't really too much difference. Any earlier UK copies would've been issued by PYE - and, from the evidence of the few I have (which carry 'YMG' imported metalwork), I wouldn't exactly consider them free of some pretty gross 'dynamic-levelling'..(or compression in the electronics/cutter distortion).
    For the record: *my* transfer has not been limited in any way up to the point of transfer to CD-RW - where it was @ a level that accomodated the highest peaks without clipping. The PU cartridge used was a Stanton Collector's Series 100 with D98S (980 series) Stereohedron stylus.

  7. As I see that I've the FLAC file on this computer - here's the Audacity file.
    Bearing in mind that this constitutes an un-retouched original dubbing (except for the removal of 'ticks/etc') and that it is done via analog settings into the CD-Recorder, then it clearly shows that I have utilized the full 16-bits of CD - with just 4 minor excursions into clipping (by <1 sample)
    - which indicates that I'm not responsible for any 'levelling' of the peaks.
    The actual 'dynamic-range' was in the hands of the engineers, before me...

  8. Very interesting. The waveform you show looks nothing at all like what Audacity shows me, which is extremely truncated. But I used the .wav file, and not the .flac file. I wonder why there is such a large difference ...

  9. I've now added a third screen-shot.
    This is of the original edited WAV files - combined as one - from whence the FLAC was derived @ the same time and also directly uploaded from the standby XP machine. This is a Flash Drive copy - imported onto this computer - and which appears 'identical' (except one 'clip', end mvt.2, doesn't show-up - but it was showing on the desktops screen...and a small variation in a couple of places - possibly due to a tiny difference in the jpg size.. Possibly you've a problem with your Audacity set-up..I use 1.3.12 to edit recent files. (The FLAC previously shown was a downloaded copy from Sendspace).

  10. You are entirely correct. I very recently migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7, and I hadn't used Audacity since that time. Apparently, there is a compatibility problem between Audacity 1.3.12 and Windows 7. When I view your upoload in WavePad I get precisely the same results as you show. Sorry for this tempest in a teapot. Your blog is not only excellent and valuable; you are also very meticulous with it. I look forward to what you may offer in the future.

  11. One of the most beautiful Mono-Mercurys I've ever heard. Masterful transfer. Thank You very much !

  12. Hello. Thanks for the comment! I did miss (at least) one 'tick'@ the start - probably as I was spending so much time on a mastering/LP fault just before the transition to the violin solo.
    I've seen your blog - which I've added to my list here.
    So many 78 sets were popular/still survive - I've the Walter/Mahler - Siegfried (on HMV) - but I approve of your comments re: 'noise reduction'.
    The 'expectation' that there will be almost no noise from a 78 certainly discourages me from making transfers - as I can't 'compete' with the offerings elsewhere.