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Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Overture Prince Igor (1887) [11:00]
Polovtsian Dances (1887) [14:08]
Polovtsian March (1887) [5:19]
In The Steppes Of Central Asia (1880) [7:18]
Symphony No. 2 in B Minor (1876) [27:16]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Schmidt
rec. CTS London, 1996. DDD
First issued on Tring International TRP104
REGIS RRC 1215 [65:16]

This disc was greeted warmly when first issued on the Tring label and critical reception remains pretty much unchanged. As a single CD mixed Borodin anthology in contemporary digital sound and at bargain price this stands at the head of the recommendation list.

The blend of works places the Second Symphony at the core of the collection. Around it are grouped a clutch of orchestral perennials from Prince Igor as well as the dreamy and easygoing tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia. More than ever this work struck me as a monothematic mirage - a sort of precursor of Ravel's Bolero. Schmidt plays it as an oneiric vision.

His Igor overture is sensational - drawn with great dramatic insight. The roughened brass fanfare crescendos are superbly done. Despite being taken down in a studio environment - CTS studios where Schmidt also recorded his outstanding Sibelius 5 - Schmidt captures the buzz of the opera house. He grasps every opportunity to catch the volatile dervish whirl of this music. That magic can be gleaned from hearing the frenzy of the first Polovtsian Dance as well as the beguiling motion and languor of the famous 'Stranger in Paradise' tune. Woodwind solos flare and flame suggesting the undomesticated exoticism of the Polovtsi palanquins. Menace is to be found in these scores as the rather repetitive March shows with its passing reminiscences of Mussorgsky's Unhatched Chicks.

The Second Symphony bears out all the same fine audio-technical and interpretative qualities. Schmidt resist the temptation to dawdle. His first movement proceeds at a cracking pace without gabble or smudged articulation. Speaking of which this symphony is pretty much of a works' outing for the French Horns who distinguish themselves notably time after time; two examples: discreetly in the second movement's spasms of quiet repeated notes and then in the third movement's cantilena solo.

Schmidt's recorded output is exiguous - more's the pity. His Nielsen symphonies are core recommendations as is his Sibelius 5; and all of these are on Regis. They are all well worth tracking down.

There are various single disc Borodin collections but none as competitive as this which must be a first recommendation. If however you were looking for all three symphonies on one disc go for Tjeknavorian and the National PO on BMG-Sony.

Rob Barnett



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