Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
CD 1
Symphony No. 1 (1862-67) [34:42]
Symphony No. 2 (1869-76) [26:23]
CD 2
Symphony No. 3 (1882) [17:43]
String Quartet No. 2 in D - Notturno [8:41]
In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880) [7:23]
Prince Igor (1869-87): Overture [10:32]; Polovtsian Dances [12:58]
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis; New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Asia); St Petersburg Camerata (Notturno)
rec. mid-1970s, Toronto (Davis), New York, 1969 (Bernstein), St Petersburg, 1993 (Notturno). ADD, DDD (only Notturno)
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802097 [77:34 + 57:17]
Newton, with its impeccable licensing credentials in the industry, returns to the listener’s ken a Borodin cycle of the 1970s. It has appeared in this self-same combination before from Sony. That was in 2002. Nothing has changed – at least not to its discredit. These remain alertly emphatic versions with an orchestra notably on top form and seemingly blooming under Davis’s direction. The readings are vivacious and poetic.
In the finale of No. 1 Davis still reminds me of the Schumann Fourth Symphony. In the Second Symphony things again go very well. The Third has long been a work I have held in affection. The violin sound is refined and the woodwind - always a Borodin touchstone - a delight. Delight is also the word that leaps to mind also for Davis's Scherzo in No. 3. All the virtues of Davis’s rhythmically taut approach to the symphonies are replicated in the Prince Igor extracts. I would have preferred a slightly more stentorian balance for the brass antiphonal fanfares at 3.30 in the Overture but this is good. The Polovtsian Dances go at such a lick that I still think of Golovanov. Davis takes the dances by the throat and the result conveys strongly the exotic Tartar barbarity of the opera.
When issued on vinyl the Toronto cycle played second string to the even more comprehensive RCA Tjeknavorian 3 LP set. Tjeknavorian remains a doughty competitor on BMG-Red Seal – presenting all three symphonies on one packed tight CD (review). Whatever happened to the other Borodin tracks from what was once a three LP boxed set circa 1978? It has been traditional to give the Glazunov-completed Third Symphony a good kicking. It does not deserve it – it’s irresistible stuff. The Notturno is tenderly touched in by the St Petersburg Camerata. There’s almost a sob in the line they project. Bernstein’s In the Steppes of Central Asia is drafted in to add to the splendour; strange that Davis overlooked such a key score.
There are many more recent and creditable versions of the symphonies, including Schwarz on Naxos – a combination consistently receiving sensationally welcoming critiques for a series of Russian repertoire recordings. Rozhdestvensky on Brilliant is a much more direct competitor given the span of that collection. Perhaps the redoubtable Neeme Järvi set from DG (4357572) will also be revived; I rather hope so as Michael Cookson speaks highly of it. Other contenders include Mark Ermler with the Bolshoi orchestra on Russian Season (RUS288169) and the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser (Naxos 8.550238) not to mention Plasson, Svetlanov, Ashkenazy, Martinon and Ansermet. One that intrigues me, given his superb Glazunov, is the trio of symphonies once on ASV (CDDCA706) from the Rome RAI Orchestra under José Serebrier. Ole Schmidt has a delightful single disc Borodin collection on Regis. It includes a great Second Symphony and for hardly any outlay.
All in all one can hardly put a foot wrong when buying a Borodin set these days. The present twin – with newly written notes by David Gutman - is a choice that is both sure-footed and brilliant.

Rob Barnett

Sure-footed and brilliant.