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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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Alexander Porfir’yevich BORODIN (1833-1887)
Prince Igor
- highlights: 1. Overture; 2. I don’t like boredom (Galitzky’s Recitative and Aria, Act I); 3. Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens, Act II; 4. Daylight is fading (Konchakovna’s Cavatina, Act II); 5. Slowly the day was fading (Vladimir’s Cavatina, Act II); 6. There is neither sleep, nor rest (Igor’s Aria, Act II); 7. Choral version of the Polovtsian Dances, Act II; 8. Polovtsian March, Act III;
In the Steppes of Central Asia
Angelina Shvachka (mezzo) (tr. 4), Dmytro Popov (tenor) (tr. 5), Mykola Koval (baritone) (tr. 6), Taras Shtonda (bass) (tr. 2), Kiev Chamber Choir/Mykola Hobdych
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
rec. Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine, Kiev, 12-16 Dec 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557456 [57:45]



Borodin was a frustratingly talented composer - frustrating because his completed works are so few in number. His great Russian opera, Prince Igor, was left unfinished at his death, and was completed by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov. There was also assistance from the young Glazunov who it is said transcribed the overture from memory, having heard Borodin play it as the piano. How much of the opera is actually Borodin is hard to say, but for the most part it sounds like him and it all sounds fabulous, which is good enough for me.

It is a shame that Borodin did not manage to write more music, but it is understandable that his successful career as a chemist and his championship of women's rights distracted him from composing. What is a greater shame is that, as little as he wrote, even less of his music is known to most music lovers. Most will have heard the second string quartet, perhaps even the second symphony. But everyone knows the overture and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. The sheer colour and vibrancy of these works has seen them recorded and re-recorded by just about every orchestra and conductor around, and everyone will have their favourite renditions. For me, the yardstick overture and Polovtsian Dances remain Solti's viscerally exciting readings with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, now available on Decca Legends (460977-2) (see review). But no matter which versions you have in your collection, you owe it to yourself to grab this Naxos disc with both hands.

Why? Because for the price of a sandwich and a coffee you get excellent performances of the ubiquitous overture and Polovtsian Dances, which are urgent and passionate without sounding rushed. You also get a chance to acquaint yourself with more music from this wonderful opera.

Kuchar and his Ukrainian band are in typically strong form throughout. The woodwinds and brass have real character and what the strings may lack in tonal sheen they more than make up for in sheer commitment. Their performances here are idiomatic, splashing colour around in the big orchestral numbers and pulling back when necessary to support the singers in a selection of vocal highlights.

The orchestra honks and twitters with humour under Galitzky's aria. Taras Shtonda turns Galitzky into something of a pantomime villain rather than a truly evil one, but his performance is hard to dislike. His rapid vibrato may not be to all tastes, however. Angelina Shvachka's performance of Daylight is Fading is ravishing and is perfectly underscored by the languid orchestral accompaniment. Dmytro Popov's Vladimir is also excellent. He uses his bright tenor sensitively to colour the melancholy longing for Konchakovna in his cavatina from Act II. Mykola Koval's rich baritone brings real gravitas to the title role – he sings his aria There is neither sleep nor rest with feeling, despite a couple of moments of questionable intonation. The vocal contribution of the Kiev Chamber Choir is also excellent, although I personally prefer the heft of a full chorus.

A dreamy, evocative performance of Borodin's tone poem, In the Steppes of Central Asia, is thrown in as a filler.

With such excellent performances in clear, well-balanced sound, full texts of the vocal numbers and a handy plot synopsis, this disc is a bargain. Get to know Borodin a bit better.

Tim Perry

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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