Newton Classics, while having a predilection for analogue, also
have their pick of the best digital efforts in the Universal
treasure-house. The 1990s DG originals in this case were for
CD 1 439 089-2 5823 (1993) and for CD 2 The Enchanted Kingdom
447 084-2 (1994).
Just one point to mention before we get to the music itself.
I had not realised until researching this set that Pletnev (b.
1957) is also a composer. His Yeats Song Cycle for soprano,
chorus and orchestra (2003, 2009) was premiered by him with
the RNO and Lisa Delan, soprano in the USA in February 2010.
I hope that we will get to hear this work: its poems might well
have drawn out something rather special. He sets The Wild
Swans at Coole, The Shadowy Horses and When You
In this all-digital set. Pletnev goes for the famous Glinka
overture like a tiger. This is comparable to Golovanov in
Mendelssohn’s famous scherzo or Dorati in Brahms. The RNO are
driven at a rate just within their very considerable virtuosity.
The Borodin overture is full of character – once or twice
a touch unfeeling – but some unconventional rallentandos around
3:00 work rather well. It’s all very excitingly done with sappy
attention to rhythmic patterning. The RNO retain more than a
shadow of the Soviet style of brass playing. After a bumptiously
red-cheeked and carefree Shostakovich comes an unfamiliar
piece of Prokofiev: the Intro from Semyon Kotko standing
poetically in the same misty stream as Mussorgsky’s Dawn
on the Moskva River also most lovingly played and recorded
here. It is broadly paced but then – much to my surprise – so
is the punchy little Kabalevsky crowd-pleaser. Back to
Russia’s first nationalistic golden age with Rimsky’s
Tsar’s Bride prelude. The rare Tchaikovsky overture
takes a while to find its feet. It’s by no means all characteristic
stuff with Glinka putting in the odd appearance here and there
although there are quite a few balletic and 1812 moments - typical
fingerprints. The Glazunov overture also sports a few
Glinka moments and a gracious Tchaikovskian clarinet solo which
returns, lofted by noble strings, at the close. Its title seems
at odd with its content – not at all ‘solennelle’; hardly matters
as it has more than few attractive moments.
The companion disc mixes the still unfamiliar Liadov and virtually
unknown Tcherepnin with the occasionally recorded Rimsky
suite – nicely done in the early 1960s by Ormandy and his Philadelphians
on CBS (LP 61586). It shines in a sophisticated light here with
the masterful orchestration well complemented by recording technology.
The delectable Tsar Dodon as Guest of the Queen of Shemakha
movement takes us to Antar territory. In the last
movement the French Horns whoop with an impressive delirium
– you will remember them. Liadov’s picture of Baba
Yaga is taken at a more sedate pace than usual so the blundering
hag pauses for reflection. That said, at this gait, one also
notices basso profundo brass cannonades more familiar
from the final measures of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini.
The whisper-confiding quasi-Sibelian Enchanted Lake is
much more successful. It’s notable for being bombast-free, for
taut hyper-Rimskian shimmer and magnificently calculated less-is-more
orchestration. It is a truly lovely iridescent piece in the
same company as the Prokofiev and Mussorgsky on the first piece.
It casts a gentle but very strong spell. Kikimora – another
witch - takes us to a world not that far removed from Rachmaninov’s
Isle of the Dead rich in Slav melancholia and later in
suggestions of a witches sabbat. There are some tasty solos
for woodwind along the way. The Tcherepnin pieces are
rarities indeed and it is very good to encounter them in any
context. While Tcherepnin might have been a Rimsky pupil his
La Princesse lointaine – on a play by Edmond Rostand
– sounds more stormily Tchaikovskian. I see that the subject
matter is about a knight dreaming about an oriental princess.
There is however a touch of Rimsky in the gorgeous long-limbed
melody made airborne and lushly spruced at 6:43. The Enchanted
Kingdom gave its name to the whole CD when first issued.
This has moved on from La Princesse lointaine. It touches
on Kastchei’s garden, without quite Stravinsky’s genius. It
reminded me of Bax’s fragile mastery of orchestration and melodic
contours in Spring Fire and Nympholept and Burlingame
Hill’s Prelude; the latter recorded by Bernstein in the
1950s. There’s some lovely trilling and shimmering magic here.
Harp, piano and tinkling percussion and the more conventional
instruments sigh, evoke bird-song and other idyllic visions.
It’s a real discovery and makes one want to hear much more by
the elder Tcherepnin.
There’s no direct digital twofer competition for this set so
if you are in the market for a very good, superbly recorded
and unhackneyed helping of Russian golden age works look no
further than Newton Classics.
CD 1 [62:02]
Mikhail Ivanovich GLINKA (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Lyudmila, Op. 5: Overture (1837-1842) [4:47]
Alexander Porfir'yevich BORODIN
(1833-1887) Prince Igor (Knyaz Igor): Overture (1869-1887)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Festive Overture, Op. 96 (1954) [5:37]
(1891-1953) Semyon Kotko Suite, Op. 81bis
Introduction (1941) [3:37]
Dmitry Borisovich KABALEVSKY
(1904-1987) Colas Breugnon, Op. 24: Overture (1938-1969)
Nikolay Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
(1844-1908) The Tsar's Bride: Overture (1898) [6:30]
Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY
(1839-1881) Khovanshchina, Act I: Prelude "Dawn on
the Moscow River" (1872-1880) [5:28]
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY
(1840-1893) Overture in F major (1866 version
for full orchestra) [11:05]
Alexander Konstantinovich GLAZUNOV
(1865-1936) Ouverture solennelle, Op. 73 (1900) [5:31]
CD 2 [67:25]
Anatol Konstantinovich LIADOV
(1855-1914) Baba Yaga, Op. 56 (1892-1904)
[3:35]; Volshebnoye ozero (The Enchanted Lake), Op. 62 (1909)
[7:04]; Kikimora, Op. 63 (1909) [7:11]
Nikolai TCHEREPNIN (1873-1945)
La princesse lointaine, Op. 4: Prelude (1896) [9:17]; The
Enchanted Kingdom - Prelude [13:34]
Nikolay Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
(1844-1908) arr GLAZUNOV and STEINBERG The Golden Cockerel
Suite (1907) (I. Tsar Dodon in his Palace [8:48]; II. Tsar Dodon
on Campaign [4:33]; III. Tsar Dodon as Guest of the Queen of
Shemakha [6:46]; IV. The Wedding and Lamentable End of Dodon