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Russia: Romance and Drama
London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Ahronovitch
rec. St Peters, Morden, 1981
ALTO ALC1371 [79:07]

Alto is adept at tracking down attractive material to revive, license and come up with carefully calculated discs at bargain price. It certainly did well to source and assemble this generous Russian compilation with Yuri Ahronovitch at the hub. This conductor studied with Kurt Sanderling and with the same Nathan Rachlin who in analogue days for Melodiya left behind a superb Glazunov Fourth and a Gliere Third Symphony ‘Ilya Mouramets’.

The content of this Alto CD dates from 1981: LSO PCD 804 and 801. John Boyden and the distinguished engineer Bob Auger had been retained for this purpose by the LSO. The management must have had an eye to the many Auger projects the dazzle of which has lasted into the present century. Auger’s triumphs include the same orchestra’s Tchaikovsky 4-6 trilogy with Rozhdestvensky (at one time on Regis and now on Alto) and the Ole Schmidt Nielsen symphonies (originally on Unicorn, then Regis and now on Alto ALC2505). The Boyden/Auger sound on the present disc has been mastered by Paul Arden-Taylor. James Murray does the notes with his usual quiet authority and readable confidence.

The present packed-tight CD is not quite in the Tchaikovsky/Nielsen league. Ahronovitch can be uneven: at one time volcanic passion (a feather out of the caps of Golovanov or Ovchinnikov) and at another frail and flickering. His orchestra here is, like the RPO (try them in Temirkanov’s Tchaikovsky), one of the most ‘authentic’ Russian-sounding of ensembles. The LSO did well back in 1981 (still fresh from some glowing Previn projects) in capturing the commingled sound and spirit of a Russian orchestra.

Khachaturian gets a good look-in here. There are three of his pieces including The Sabre Dance which has a sax-led second section as a relief from all those explosive accelerations. Then comes his Spartacus Adagio - one of the longest pieces here. It receives a languid presentation as composer and conductor have the Adagio unfold before us in Lento splendour. Even so, the nerves are tensed and twisted. With Ahronovitch the music works up to a honey-steeped violin solo; very effective. This piece made such a hit with UK English-speaking audiences when it was used as the title music for the BBCTV series ‘The Onedin Line’. Less effective is the Waltz from Masquerade which, while sumptuous enough, is on a low flame.

The Troika from Prokofiev’s KijÚ blitzes along, and seduction and abandon are well caught in Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, even if Ahronovitch lacks a choir; superb woodwind at 7.50. Ruslan and Lyudmila is delivered at oompah speed. The famous Mussorgsky - much loved by Stokowski for the film ‘Fantasia’ (1940) with all its orgiastic revelry and devil-worshippers - goes well. In the present alertly-delivered version the conductor is not afraid of italicising the pauses between episodes. Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges march struts in showy splendour catching the tradition of Russian satire (try Rimsky’s Golden Cockerel). It’s the shortest piece here. Before the final two tracks there comes the Folk Feast from Shostakovich’s Gadfly. It’s cut from a Tchaikovskian cake with Dmitri embracing populist mode as he does in Cheryomushki (well worth hearing), the Festive Overture and the Second Piano Concerto.

The disc is rounded out with two pieces of show-time Tchaikovsky. There’s the Marche Slave - a war commemorative piece with Serbian folksongs cleverly woven in. It makes a well-suited companion to the 1812 which has the expected bombast, bells and cannon fire (12:02) aplenty. The cannonades register more forwardly than the bells. No harm in that. It’s a piece not often encountered in the 2000s but much visited for spectacle concerts in the 1970s; the sort that were endlessly mounted by Victor Hochhauser Productions in London's great venues alongside Romeo and Juliet and the First Piano Concerto.

Rob Barnett
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Lyudmila, op.5 Overture (1842) [5:23]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Gayaneh - Sabre Dance (1946) [2:32]
Masquerade Waltz (1941) [4:27]
Spartacus - Adagio (1954) [9:52]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
A Night on the Bare Mountain (1867) [12:14]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances (1890) [11:14]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Lieutenant KijÚ: Suite op.60 - IV Troika (1934) [3:15]
The Love for Three Oranges op.33 March (1921) [1:45]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Gadfly: Suite (1955) op.97a: Folk Festival [2:51]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Marche Slave op.31 (1876) [9:24]
1812 Overture op.49 (1880) [15:14]

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