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Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Symphony No. 1 in E flat major (1867) [33:17]
Symphony No. 2 in B minor (1876) [26:38]
Symphony No. 3 in A minor (completed Glazunov) (1887) [18:57]
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Loris Tjeknavorian
Rec. Feb 1977, Kingsway Hall, London. ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 623212 [79:00]

This is classic Borodin. Tjeknavorian’s vision of these works is neither tame nor picturesque. He directs performances that are virile and pumped up with a peculiar excitement whether in the quicker more passionate music or in the dreamy steppe reflections of the No. 1’s andantino, No. 2’s andante and No. 3’s lovingly shaped moderato assai.

Tjeknavorian is aided by a world class orchestra of freelances hand-picked by its leader Sidney Sax. That exceptionally gifted conductor and producer Charles Gerhardt oversaw the sessions in London’s Kingsway Hall. Kenneth E. Wilkinson (assisted by Martin Atkinson) worked his control-board magic over the proceedings. The hall’s fabled acoustics again come into their own even if we have to make the occasional trivial concession when the low rumble of London traffic can be heard in some quiet moments when setting the volume at close to full blast. Speaking of which listen to the extraordinary crashingly rumbustious full tilt tumult at 5.50 onwards in the finale of the Second Symphony.

Time has made few inroads into the splendid sound secured for those original analogue-captured sessions. A steely glare obtrudes at moments of climactic oration by massed violins. Otherwise the sound, though not as ‘drenched’ as ASV’s for the Tjeknavorian’s Yerevan sessions, is full of colour and life with a specially gripping bass extension and forward voicing for the solo woodwind. Listen to the prominently growling and barking trombones at the end of the first and final movements of the First Symphony. The bright-eyed woodwind can be sampled in the second movement of No. 1 and also throughout the Third Symphony - a work of infectious and eager pleasures. The robustly chesty playing of the full string body in the First Symphony’s andantino is impressively weighted. As for the finale Tjeknavorian surprised me by reminding me of Beethoven’s Seventh perhaps as whipped to frenzy by Carlos Kleiber (DG). Nothing is on autopilot, accents and emphases are part of the conductor’s stock-in-trade yet it does not feel as if the work is being pulled about.

These recordings were first issued as part of a 3 LP set in August 1977. I still have that RCA box (RL25098). These were later reissued in part on two RCA LPs: RL25322; RL25225. Despite the excellence of the recordings and performances the set has never been reissued complete on CD. In 1991 RCA issued the Second Symphony, Central Asia and the Prince Igor orchestral-choral ‘plums’ on Silver Seal 9026-60535-2. I know about that disc because of the open-handed kindness of one of the many friends I have met through this site. Apart from that there has been nothing else at all. Here after pleadings to BMG in the UK appear all three symphonies in a package that you should snap up very quickly indeed. We now need to extend our pleas for reissues of Tjeknavorian’s complete Khachaturian Gayaneh. Please BMG do not even think of issuing highlights; we need the full ballet. I should also commend his Sibelius 4 and 5. I hope that the success of this handsome disc will also cause the companies to take Tjeknavorian back into the studio again.

The capable and informative notes are by Richard Freed. At 79 minutes you can hardly ask for more music and on top of which the coupling is the ultimate in logic: all three Borodin symphonies performed with affection and passion - all in one package. Tjeknavorian is an extraordinary musician blending the hothouse heritages of Golovanov and Svetlanov on the one hand and on the other Silvestri and Stokowski on their best days. Be sure to add this to your must-have list.

Rob Barnett

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