Capriccio Espagnol

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34

  1. Alborada
  2. Variazioni
  3. Alborada
  4. Scena e Canto gitano
  5. Fandango asturiano

Unusually, the Capriccio Espagnol is a piece I discovered not from a recording, but at a live performance given by the Philharmonia Orchestra in Leicester. As with many people, I was already familiar with the second half of this work, but the beginning of the piece is, in my opinion, even better. Hearing the Capriccio in its entirety – particularly as it was live, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s rich orchestration could be appreciated to the full – prompted me to look for a recording.

Spanish music was popular with Russian composers in the later part of the nineteenth century. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his "Spanish Capriccio" in 1887 as a showcase for his proficiency at orchestral colouring.

The opening movement is a lively theme based on a dance from a collection called Echoes of Spain. Later, it returns as the third movement. Sandwiched between these is a set of variations, starting serenely, becoming a little mournful, then reaching a dramatic climax before ending calmly.

The fourth movement, Scene and gypsy song, opens with a drum roll and fanfare. An unaccompanied violin then plays the theme that constitutes the rest of the movement. It provides the opportunity for solos by various instruments. In addition to the violin – as featured prominently in Sheherazade – the flute, oboe, clarinet and even the harp have their turns.

The movement is in triple time, and builds up and runs straight into the final section. This is an Asturian fandango – a dance in thee-four time from the Asturias region of northern Spain. Naturally, this movement features the sound of castanets!

To round off the work, there is a substantial coda that recalls the opening Alborada theme for a final time.

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