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Mikhail GLINKA

Russlan and Ludmilla - Overture


A Night on the Bare Mountain

Capriccio Espagnol, op 34 Russian Easter Festival Overture

Alexander BORODIN
In the Steppes of Central Asia Prince Igor - Overture

Hallé Orchestra - Vernon Handley.
recorded in 1988 (DDD)
EMI Classics for Pleasure 574 0062 [63.58]

I can't understand why this disc has been issued at all. It is a re-issue of a recording made in 1988, previously released by Classics for Pleasure, now repackaged in what seems to be EMI's new corporate uniform for CFP discs. The repertoire is definitely mainstream romantic Russian repertoire, and while the current performances are quite satisfactory, played well with no idiosyncrasies, unfortunately the Hallé does not convey how these works could sound in the hands of an ethnic band.

Russlan and Ludmilla is well played, reasonably rapid and neat, but without the animal vigour one finds with conductors such as Pletnev, Gergiev and Tjeknavorian, to name but three who have recorded this overture with a great deal more élan that the home-grown band.

Night on a Bare Mountain is in the normal arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov, and nowadays, I would have thought the original version would be the one to own. Again perfectly decently played and recorded, but missing the last ounce of excitement.

The Rimsky-Korsakov pieces don't excite as I have heard them do for example with the Berlin P.O. under Maazel for Capriccio Espagnol on budget DG if you don't want a Russian performance, and Kondrashin on RCA if you do.

And so it goes on - A few years ago, this issue would have been quite warmly welcomed - when cheap alternatives were less common than they are today. This is particularly so when there isn't anything particularly wrong with the current disc. Vernon Handley is a highly respected conductor, and it shows in these well prepared pieces. EMI's recording is fine, but nothing spectacular - the whole offering seems to be a bit well upholstered and comfortable. When I know that there are much better offerings out there it seems wrong to recommend an issue like this.

EMI (and some of the other majors) need to learn that a reissue of an old disc is not worth doing unless it can offer the collector something outstanding. Particularly when there are many really outstanding performances hidden away in the archives, crying out for reissue to keen collectors, the accountants who seem to be responsible for the repackaging and recycling of the same performances, need to think again.

So to sum up, this disc is mainly for fans of Vernon Handley or our beloved Hallé, but not for those who want to hear these works as they can be heard.

John Phillips

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