It makes a change for this reviewer to return to a non-Australian
Eloquence disc. This one couples the most popular Borodin pieces in performances
garnered from the greyer corners of the Decca catalogue.
These are analogue recordings carrying intrinsically
very fine sound. Hiss is apparent though not a real distraction. Everything
apart perhaps from the 1955 Third Symphony is in stereo.
The LSO have the field to themselves except in the
Ansermet Third Symphony. Solti's Prince Igor Overture
is a vehicle for extremes with some furious tempi; ultimately rather
heartless, I thought. I have heard those antiphonal brass calls that
summon us out of the Slav mists done with greater excitement. The Polovtsian
Dances are memorable for some world class woodwind work, emphatic
brass, shadily focused choral singing, demonstration bass drum thwacks,
vivid pizzicati (08.07) and whirlwind impact. An aptly thunderous and
breathless end to the disc.
The Second Symphony has Martinon at the helm
in a cracking recording and performance made over forty years ago. This
goes with a restless attack, a stomp that would crack paving slabs and
a riotous swing in both the outer allegros. Greater control is evinced
than in the Solti overture. Decca cradle the chittering woodwind in
close balance (try 3.33 of the Scherzo). In the Andante Martinon
takes his time creating a still small voice in a time of peace. A passing
thought - did Vaughan Williams get some of his ideas for The Wasps
overture from the finale of this symphony?
Perversely perhaps, I have always rated the Third
Symphony highly ever since hearing that old Philips Universo LP
of Russian rarities - LPO conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. Ansermet and
his accustomed orchestra seem to take things at a rather arthritic pulse.
Things pick up in the silvery flickering of the Scherzo.
Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov revised or completed and
orchestrated the Overture and the Second Symphony. Glazunov alone completed
and orchestrated the Third Symphony.
A decent collection - Solti furious and headlong,
Ansermet so-so and Martinon showing what a clean pair of heels to the
celebrity opposition. There are good performances in the catalogue from
Andrew Davis and the Toronto SO on SONY and there is a fine and
highly recommendable twofer on Decca. I hanker for a reissue of the
complete orchestra works on RCA-BMG with Loris Tjeknavorian conducting
the National Philharmonic. This ultra-bargain price CD has plenty going
for it and is a good inexpensive introduction to the composer.