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
For example, we have
the eternal Pictures at an Exhibition.
Mussorgsky’s original piano version
is a benchmark in the Russian keyboard
literature, and Ravel’s 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
Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra recording
or Fritz Reiner’s 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.
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 program is rounded
out with Borodin’s infectiously melodic
Polovtsian Dances, played with style
and grace, and with a fairly rousing
rendition of Glinka’s 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.