For three or four years Warner sustained an arrangement with the
BBC under which they were able to issue a selection of recordings
from the Promenade concerts. This disc was one of the fruits of
that agreement. As such the odd cough and shuffle here and there
must come as no surprise.
This is a comparatively
short playing disc but compensated for by the celebrity participants
and the enviable qualities of the performances. Hvorostovsky
- extensively recorded on Delos - has his own very large and
popular following. They will already have acquired this disc.
His Mussorgsky cycle leaves to one side his predilection for
potent sentimentality - try his wonderful Delos recital discs
with Constantine Orbelian - and instead embraces the dark and
implacably resolute Mussorgsky songs. His indomitable chest
voice recalls Benjamin Luxon at his finest but adds a lignite
blackness of tone that seems to be largely the province of the
Russia and Slav basses and baritones. I make the honourable
exception of the miraculous Charles Robert Austin recorded in Shostakovich’s
Stepan Razin cantata on Naxos.
Hvorostovsky’s richly stocked voice is here caught in all its
vital dark and sable tonal lustre.
So far as the Rachmaninov
is concerned this turns out to be a subtle and at first coolly
understated, confiding and sometimes drowsy-distant version
of the Symphonic Dances. Things heat up however in the
finale and are just as I remembered them from when I heard the
last ten minutes of this work in the car on the way home from
Warrington almost five years ago now. The singing quality of
the St Petersburg violins shines out in a smiling glow in the
finale at 8:03. The final section from 9:12 is given a snappy,
rip-snorting and cracking performance with the brass and woodwind
abrasive, sardonic and triumphant. It is no wonder that the
audience explodes in thunder of applause. A pity that this overlays
the decay of the laisser-vibrer final slam-crash of the
The Rachmaninov cannot
really be a library recommendation. For that you must go back
to Polyansky on Chandos (see
review), Svetlanov on Regis (see
review) and on Melodiya the sensational Kondrashin from the
1960s with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra (Melodiya MELCD1000840). Even so if you have any feeling for this work - and
it is one of my favourites - try to track down a copy of this
Warner disc to hear a glorious final dance from an orchestra in
extraordinary possessed communion with the audience.
The notes by Andrew
Huth are lucid, full, good and cover all the principal bases.
I owe it to Mr Huth that I can point out that Shostakovich was
inspired by the Mussorgsky cycle in his own death-centred symphony
No. 14. When Shostakovich orchestrated the songs in 1962 he stayed
faithful to the Mussorgskian style. He had already prepared editions
of Mussorgsky's operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina.
The sung texts for the Mussorgsky songs are printed in full in
the sung Russian and in parallel layout in German, English and