Vasily KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)
Symphony No 1 in G minor (1894-95) [36:57]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Overture to the Opera The Noblewoman (Boyarinya) Vera Sheloga (1898) [5:11]
Sinfonietta on Russian Themes in A minor Op. 31 (1879-84) [24:33]
Overture on Russian Themes Op. 28 (1866, rev. 1879-80) [11:54]
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1975, 1985
REGIS RRC 1351 [79:03]

Both Arensky and Kalinnikov were rated highly by Tchaikovsky but in hearing the First Symphony the impress one is immediately aware of is that of Borodin. Arensky - who also wrote two symphonies - on the other hand does sound rather like Tchaikovsky. Those quick-time string figures, those buzzing and exciting singing strings, those sighingly Slavonic swoonings and the stomping brass take us directly to Borodin’s Second Symphony. Kalinnikov also had a real gift for the tenderly lilting as the delightful ‘tick-over’ and singing string waves of the second movement Andante commodamente go to prove. especially when coupled with the Steppe-longing aspirations of the finale. There’s some delightful writing also for the woodwind. In summary - if you like Borodin then it is pretty much a dead cert that this lovely symphony - maybe 5 minutes longer than its material warrants - will appeal. It benefits from the total commitment of Svetlanov and his orchestra recorded in 1975.

Strange perhaps that Tchaikovsky who espoused a more inward psychological cause at the opposite extreme from the folk enchantments of the Kouchka should be such a supporter. Then again his first three symphonies - especially the Little Russian - do not escape the folk-nationalist influence or even try that hard.

The Rimsky items benefit greatly from much improved audio-technology. These are all far from commonly encountered works. The Vera Sheloga overture is pretty much in the same camp as Kalinnikov. Vera Sheloga was the eighth of Rimsky’s fifteen operas. The Sinfonietta on Russian Themes and the Overture on Russian Themes broadly echo Rimsky’s sympathies for Balakirev’s treatment of themes and in the folk-music themes selected. Compare notes with Balakirev’s two Overtures on Russian Themes. These are not strikingly original but they are highly skilled and attractive; evidence that Rimsky’s tendencies were at least two-fold: autochthonous and oriental-exotic.

This is an amply timed disc which will please the exploring mind if it harbours any sympathies for the Russian nationalists - splendid Kalinnikov and imaginative folksy Rimsky.

Rob Barnett

An amply timed disc to please the explorer who harbours any sympathies for the Russian nationalists - splendid Kalinnikov and imaginative folksy Rimsky.