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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1838-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Maurice Ravel) [32:30]
Night on Bare Mountain (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov) [10:47]
Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Capriccio Espagnole [14:56]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)

Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens [2:23]
Polovtsian Dances [12:11]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)

Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila [5:33]
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/Alain Lombard
Recorded in the Palais de Fêtes, Strasbourg on 2-3 February and 24 March 1976 and at the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès, Strasbourg on 9-10 and 12 September 1977.
WARNER APEX 2564 62265 [79:32]

The so-called major labels seem to have but one strategy to compete with Naxos, and that is to trot out a never-ending stream of ancient recordings of the most standard repertoire from their vaults, slap a generic package on them and price them at bargain rates. While it is certainly nice to see the occasional old favorite or two appear in the budget racks, and every once in a while stumble across a gem that had yet to make it to compact disc, for the most part this practice clogs the shelves with needless duplication and tiresome redundancy.

Such is the case with this collection of chestnuts from the Russian orchestral literature, in recordings that date back to over three decades by Alain Lombard and the Strasbourg Philharmonic. Although there is nothing terribly bad about any of these performances, I cannot help but wonder what the Warner execs were thinking when they released this disc of music so well represented in the catalogue by acclaimed and even legendary performances.

For example, we have the eternal Pictures at an Exhibition. Mussorgskyís original piano version is a benchmark in the Russian keyboard literature, and Ravelís brilliant arrangement is a masterpiece of orchestrational skill. This performance is certainly not offensive, but neither does it leave me wanting to send a copy to my mother. The Strasbourgers play with accuracy and rich tone, but the passion of George Szellís Cleveland Orchestra recording or Fritz Reinerís Chicago performance is missing, as is, sadly, the phenomenal brass playing by the latter orchestra. Lombard leads his orchestra through a rather run-of-the-mill reading, more like a newsreel report on the work of painter Hartmann than the ecstatic and sympathetic tribute that the composer paid to his departed friend through this vivid musical depiction.

Night on Bare Mountain also receives an adequate reading, but I sense very little pathos or passion, and longed for the angst of a Gergiev or the sheer force of a Karajan.

Rimsky-Korsakovís splendidly colorful Capriccio espagnole gets blessed with more attention to detail and a certain nationalistic flair that is infectious. However, this rather brief work does not provide enough satisfaction to justify the wade through the longer and less effectively played works on the disc.

The program is rounded out with Borodinís infectiously melodic Polovtsian Dances, played with style and grace, and with a fairly rousing rendition of Glinkaís jaunty Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila. This is a challenging work for the string sections in particular and Lombard keeps his ensemble in taut rhythmic discipline through some pretty treacherous passages.

Program notes by Raymond McGill are complete and interesting if somewhat cursory. But then, you get what you pay for. Packaging is generic and the sound quality is fine for its time, but does not live up to the standards of more careful digital remastering or of more recent digital recordings. These are works that should have some serious "boom" to them, and they do not get that treatment here.

Collection gap filler perhaps, but otherwise, shop elsewhere.

Kevin Sutton


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