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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Raymonda – ballet in three acts Op.57 (1897)
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow 1961
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00708 [67:02 + 69:14]

Of course there are more recent Raymondas and better-recorded Raymondas – though the technical standards in Moscow in 1961 were by no means wanting. But Svetlanov gets to heart of things as well as any conductor since. Armed with his usual charismatic and biting vibrancy he accords the score the full complement of fantasy, refinement, and vigour.

Armed with the sweeping strings and beefy Bolshoi brass, and with three excellent (named) principals, this orchestra is a natural for this score – preferable to the U.S.S.R State. And Svetlanov doesn’t mess about –Act I’s Page scene is full of bold gestures and powerful striving brass. Listen too the narrative unfolding of the Countess’s Story and its winding wind passages, so aptly descriptive here. The Bolshoi’s trumpet principal was Oleg Usach and his brassy, hugely vibrated sound can be heard in the Act I Dance scene. There’s also a delightful lilt and lift in the Grand Waltz and an incremental power in the Mime Scene – but what sheen and delicacy in its early stages. Here as elsewhere details are splendidly controlled by Svetlanov and there Is no sense of grandiloquence for its own sake or the feeling that he and the orchestra are turning these little movements into mere orchestral playthings.

Harpist Vera Dulova imparts some rippling virtuosity, bardic feel and, not least, romance in the Prelude and Romanesca. A real standout is the Entr’acte between scenes seven and eight where the gravity and warmth of the writing is crowned by a shattering climax dominated by Usach’s blisteringly braying trumpet. It’s not pretty – but it is exciting. The Bolshoi’s leader was Sergei Kalinovsky and his eloquent playing in the Grand Adagio is suitably memorable. So too is the way in which Svetlanov brings out the counter-themes in Scene VIII’s Coda – vital and fulsome.

Svetlanov’s ear for rhythmic buoyancy – never gabbled or over stressed - pays rich dividends in Act II’s Fourth variation, the one for Raymonda. And still he seldom misses a trick – note the wittily phrased Entrance of the Jugglers and the intense and exciting Bacchanal. The floridity of the Arrival of the Knight and King is resplendent here and for pompous nobility Svetlanov takes some beating in Act III’s Entrance scene. It was a Glazunovian coup, richly exploited by the conductor here, to follow it with the touching and delicate Classical Hungarian Dance.

As these more delicate and refined moments show, Svetlanov is alert to the Gallicisms inherent in the score as indeed he is to the more grandiloquent Borodin-derived ones as well. He strikes a fine balance, literally and figuratively, between the two. The 1961 sound is certainly serviceable though it has its raw moments.

Jonathan Woolf



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