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Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Symphony No.1 in E flat major (1862-67) [34:52]
Symphony No.2 in B minor The Heroic (1869-76) [31:23]
U.S.S.R Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow 1966 (Symphony No.2) and 1983 (Symphony No.1)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00154 [65:55]


Svetlanov is heard in prime form in this brace of Borodin symphonies. The Third, opus posthumous, is also released in the same series and will be reviewed by me soon. Svetlanov’s prime spans the decades with performances recorded in 1966 and 1983. I can guarantee that sonic considerations, and the invariable discrepancies between the newer and older studio recordings, will be of little or no account. You will I think, on the contrary, be excited by the tangy depth of utterance generated by the Soviet maestro and will enjoy the bold, brassy and often coruscating traversals on offer.

The First was recorded in 1983 and has some very prominent winds. Partly this is a result of a rather one-dimensional recording but I must say it didn’t overly concern me, so alive and vibrant is the playing. Svetlanov is on fiery rhythmic form; as ever with him brass is really brassy and slightly braying, though never as much as when he directed the Bolshoi band. The vivacious and decidedly Mendelssohnian Scherzo responds well to this kind of incisive but never over-pressed playing but the highlight of the performance is surely the burnished slow movement. The autumnal and verdant phrasing – with middle string voicings rising and cresting with arching eloquence – is most distinguished. So too is the oboe principal’s playing and the felicitous generosity of the music making in general. Don’t overlook the nippy brass and characterful winds in the briskly accented finale.

Seventeen years earlier the same forces had recorded the Second Symphony. Svetlanov clearly relished the rugged masculinity of the writing and he gives full rein to the brusque trumpet interjections and the insistent march rhythms. Certainly there have been neater, tidier performances but not too many more exciting. Once again the slow movement has singing lyricism but also an admixtures of gaunt power and self-assertive striving. Trust Svetlanov to inject the finale with a visceral brand of ebullient high spirits; the tambourine is perfectly audible and the brass, naturally, is very much to the fore.

This is one for admirers of high octane Borodin conducting and playing; that’s pretty much a definition of Svetlanov. Those coming to the symphonies afresh may want to consider the handy but less intense National Philharmonic/Loris Tjeknavorian cycle of the three symphonies.

Jonathan Woolf


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