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Vasily KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)
Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1897) [37:07]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Symphony No. 1 in E flat major (1867) [35:07]
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow, 1975 (Kalinnikov), 1983 (Borodin). ADD
ALTO ALC1316 [72:28]

Here are two prime works by two Russian nationalist-romantics from two generations. These symphonies are separated in time by thirty years but are pretty much akin in style. Prime they may be but neither figures in the concert hall. If one of the two composers gets lucky it's usually Borodin and not Kalinnikov, who also died young. If Borodin is fortunate then it's something from Prince Igor or the Second Symphony. Here then are two overlooked first symphonies and one from an overlooked composer. Kalinnikov, like another deserving Tchaikovsky scion, Arensky, wrote two symphonies which have danced precariously around the edge of the active repertoire. In the UK the First Symphony has had the occasional broadcast from the 1930s onwards: Leslie Heward 1936, B. Walton O'Donnell 1938, Julius Harrison 1942, John Pritchard 1983, John Warrack 1943, Barry Wordsworth 1987 and Alexander Lazarov 1991-92. Almost all of these have been with the BBC regional orchestras.

This recording of Kalinnikov's First has been issued before on Regis but with Rimsky-Korsakov fillers. It's a winner. Like the Borodin it is in four movements. As I reported when it appeared then, it pleases and excites in equal measure. Those quick-time string figures buzz, excite and sing. The sighs and swoons, which Svetlanov does not sell short, often meld with a tender lilt. This is heard to euphonious effect in the second movement. There's no doubting the dedication and sheer power of Svetlanov and his orchestra. It is slightly too driven in the finale but certainly exciting. Perhaps he had heard the often heady and full-on Nikolai Golovanov who also recorded the First Symphony in 1945. If you want a newer digital recording then you can go for Järvi on Chandos or Bakels on Bis, the latter warmly praised here by Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month).

Borodin's First is the longest of his three symphonies. Svetlanov finds the work's core pulse and sticks implacably with it. The USSRSO is in taut and exciting form. The woodwinds and brass play with hoarse and ingratiating abrasion. The strings play as if possessed whether in flickering speed (II and IV) or in suave deep-pile romance (III). Svetlanov's Borodin 1 was released some years ago on a full price Melodiya with Symphony 2. The same recording has also been out in boxes from SVET and Brilliant Classics. The work has been recorded with the other two Borodin symphonies on BMG-RCA by Loris Tjeknavorian who is always well worth hearing. However, if this Kalinnikov/Borodin coupling appeals you will not do better in terms of musicality. As for the documentation it is from Alto regular James Murray, himself behind the Magdalen and Amare labels. As ever the notes are readable and support the listening experience.

Rob Barnett



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