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Some tips in choosing the better recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov's lush, exotic 'Scheherazade'

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Rimsky-Korsakov's ''Scheherazade'' never seems to lose its ability to enchant and bewitch. Conductors have showcased it for many years on disc, particularly since the advent of decent recording techniques.

The suite is something of a symphony-length tone poem that sets the moods found in several of the legendary storyteller's yarns found in the ''Thousand and One Nights.'' The stereo age brought forth most of the important performances of Rimsky-Korsakov's study in lush exoticism, and now that the digital era is upon us, a new wave of renderings is swelling.

But for me, the touchstone performance has always been Leopold Stokowski's on what used to be London Phase-4 (now available on London 21005). Stokowski was ever a wizard, able to conjure the most extraordinary sounds from an orchestra. He was ever interested in new recording techniques, and had a gift in the studio to hear the way something would sound on the master tape. This ''Scheherazade'' positively leaps out of the speakers and entraps the listener in a sonic spectacular that also happens to be a brilliant reading of the score. No performance since has managed to be so totally compelling.

Loris Tjeknavorian tried to get something similar out of the London Symphony, so the curious might rightly think his performance would give the Stokowski a run for its money. The results - on Chalfont Records (SDG-304) - are dazzling to the ear. This is the most theatrical ''Scheherazade'' yet put to vinyl, and the best recorded on every count. It's just that the performance strives so mightily for effect that Rimsky-Korsakov and ''Scheherazade'' are lost in the shuffle. Anyone seeking to show off a fine stereo will want this album. Anyone seeking a moving reading of the music will need to look further.


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