Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Symphonic poem Tamara (1867-1882) [19:52]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Symphonic Suite Antar (Symphony No.2) Op.9 (1868 rev 1875 and 1897) [34:50]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Oriental Rhapsody for large orchestra Op.29 (1889) [24:44]
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. Big Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, 1977 and 1980 (Glazunov)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 01828 [79:30]

It’s not easy being an admirer of Evgeny Svetlanov. Plenty of re-releases have muddied the discographical waters, and it’s not easy to keep up with apparently multiply released versions of the same work – or are they, so one fears, actually different versions entirely? The same piece with a different orchestra? Or a live version? The SVET label released a fantastic corpus of good things but added to the confusion by not including any recording details and as often as not omitting entirely the names of all performers bar the conductor.

Here, however, we have relatively well documented studio Svetlanov in idiomatic, persuasive performances from 1977 – Balakirev and Rimsky – and 1990, in the case of the Glazunov. The opener is Balakirev’s Tamara in a wonderfully vivid, tangy and evocative 1977 recording with – as they all are – the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra on top form. It’s followed by Antar, or the Symphony No.2, by Rimsky-Korsakov. It too dates from 1977. There are a number of recordings extant. There’s this one, also on Warner, there’s the one on RCA Red Seal with the Russian State Academic Symphony, there’s a restricted issue one with the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague (it’s on their own label), and there’s the Philharmonia recording now on Helios CDH55137. This studio Melodiya is not the same as the SVET issue; SVET 57-009-1/3. It’s interesting to hear the difference between recordings – the SVET is blowsier but the studio Melodiya’s Allegro risoluto is played more crisply, more staccato than its competitors. Melodiya’s recording is also quite dry though in the March themes it’s more exciting than the SVET. Maybe the best of all is the Hyperion version, where the recording allows the music’s colouristic strands to blossom. Still, this is another atmospheric performance, which, as I noted in my review of the SVET, is imbued with fine tangy winds, a dramatic percussion section (in the Allegro risoluto in particular) and in the finale a gauzy, hazy, introduction that keeps the sense of mystery running high.

The Oriental Rhapsody is a very opulent affair, exotic, with sweeping dance patterns, percussive interjections, and the sultry eyed stare of the East. It appears to be slightly different from the version contained in SVET’s Glazunov box - SVET 27-32/18 - but I can’t swear to it, not having it to hand at the moment.

This well selected trio of performances should appeal widely even if, like me, you prefer an alternative Antar.

Jonathan Woolf

This well selected trio of performances should appeal widely even if, like me, you prefer an alternative Antar.