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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
CD 1

Symphony No.1 in E-minor, Op.1 (second version) (1862-65) [31:24]
Antar, symphonic suite (Symphony No.2), Op.9 [35:39]
CD 2
Symphony No.3 in C major, Op.32 (second version) [38:41]
Overture to the opera "Bojarynja Vera Sheloga" [5:14]
Overture to the opera "The Maid of Pskov" (1873 revised 1892) [6:16]
Intermezzo ("The Maid of Pskov", act 1) (1873 revised 1892) [2:03]
Intermezzo ("The Maid of Pskov", act 2) (1873 revised 1892) [3:03]
In the Woods, Tsar’s Hunting, Storm, musical picture ("The Maid of Pskov", act 3) (1873 revised 1892) [7:58]
CD 3
"Scheherazade", symphonic suite after 1001 Nights, Op.35 (1888) [44:56]
Capriccio Espagnol, Op.34 [18:08]
Fantasia on Serbian Themes, Op.6 (1887 revised 1887) [6:52]
CD 4
Suite from the opera "Pan Voyevoda", Op.59 (1903) [22:48]
Suite from the opera "Snow Maiden" [12:50]
Four musical pictures from the opera "Golden Cockerel" [29:57]
"Sadko", musical picture, Op.5 (1867) [10:46]
CD 5
Suite from the opera "The Tale of Tsar Saltan", Op.57 (1900) [20:07]
Procession of the Nobles from the opera-ballet "Mlada" [5:10]
Introduction to the opera "Golden Cockerel", Act 1 (1906-07) [4:47]
Procession from the opera "Golden Cockerel", Act 3 (1906-07) [3:46]
Introduction and symphonic picture from the 3rd Act of Opera "The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya" - Praise to the desert and Battle in Kerzhenets (1904) [7:51]
Introduction to the opera "Sadko" (1896) [2:33]
Introduction to the opera "May Night" (1878) [8:29]
Introduction to the opera "The Tsar’s Bride" (1898) [6:10]
CD 6
Russian Overture on Three Russian Themes in D major, Op.28 (1880) [11:58]
Easter Festival Overture in D major, Op.36 (1887-88) [14:25]
"From Homer", prelude-cantata for soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, women’s choir and orchestra in E major, Op.60 [12;29]
"On the Tomb", prelude to the memory of M. Belyayev, Op.61 [4:22]
"Dubinushka", Op.62 (second version) [4:49]
Sinfonietta on Russian Themes in A minor, Op.31(1879-84) [24:37]
The State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. c. 1969-1993
SVET 57-009-1/3 [6 CDs: 67:03 + 63:19 + 70:03 + 76:16 + 58:51 + 72:37]

Experience Classicsonline

A blockbusting six disc set of Svetlanov’s Rimsky recordings is bound to be of interest to collectors even when, as here, it’s a compilation of well known performances garnered over a two decade span and not a revealing tranche of rare performances. Svetlanov was the man for the totality of this music – for the processional and the sumptuous, for the glittering and the heady, the musical picture and the sombre portrait, the folk-laced dance and the ballroom swirl. If you want a Man for all Rimsky Seasons then you simply call for Svetlanov.

He was certainly the man for the First Symphony in the 1884 version, the second. Once past the Schumannesque introduction we find revealed a strong, powerful and sinewy commitment, pensive in the slow movement and with brio to match in the finale – the conductor generates a delightful lilt and then unleashes a characteristically virile dash to the tape. Antar is the other symphonic statement on the first disc in the 1875 version. This is a wonderfully atmospheric performance, imbued with fine tangy winds, a dramatic percussion section (in the Allegro risoluto in particular) and in the finale a gauzy, hazy, introduction that keeps the sense of mystery running high.

Even Svetlanov can’t quite convince one that the Third Symphony is without its longeurs. The first movement is badly over extended but there is such delightful writing in the Scherzo and in the rising and cresting of the slow movement that one easily submits to the blandishments of conductor and composer. Not one to spurn a decisive climax he certainly wrings all he can from the torrent that ends the symphony. The rest of the disc is taken up with overtures and intermezzi – all characterised with care, with a fine ear for balance and with verve.

The third CD conjoins a famous pair of performances. There are quite a few surviving performances of Scheherazade but this is the esteemed 1969 recording. He always seems to have taken the opening broadly so the much later live LSO/BBC Legends performance was very much part of the continuum of his Scheherazade conducting and especially when it came to tempo relationships. Back on home ground we find him measured and watchful but when those climaxes come they are hammered home – even bludgeoned. The characteristically braying trumpets add their own beleaguered vehemence to the proceedings. He’s emphatic in the second movement, insistent on some stolid-sounding paragraphs but ones that soon open out. The trombone principal had a big, fat tone reminiscent of current jazz trombone player Gary Valente in its moose-toned sleaze. Neither he nor the trumpet principal made any attempt at tone blending in their sections and the results are, strictly speaking, in that respect chaotic. But that’s outweighed, indeed weirdly enhanced, by the charismatic passion and opulent theatricality of the playing, the rubato – always subtle, never functional – and the robust masculinity of approach. The solo violin adheres to the expressive theatricality of the performance – quite florid in places as well. No messing around either in the full-blooded Capriccio Espagnol – and nothing apologetic about it either.

The fourth disc is dominated by suites. One simply sits back and admires the rhythmic brio of the Cracovienne from Pan Voyevoda or the veiled warmth of the Nocturne, with its little reminisce of Vltava at the end. The following Mazurka is wittily suggestive. The suite from the Snow Maiden is short but terrific. The bird-calls, the lithe exciting phrasing and string weight, the colossal personality … all this makes for twelve minutes of intoxicating fun. The virtuosic persuasiveness of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra – sometimes overlooked – stands revealed in the excerpts from The Golden Cockerel; listen to the adrenalin saturated accelerando in Tsar Dodon on the March for starters.

There are more suites and processions in the penultimate disc, the brassy fanfares of which are a tonic in the excerpts from The Tale of Tsar Sultan. The Introduction to Act II had me seriously wondering about Svetlanov as a conductor of that famous Russophile Janáček. He certainly performed the composer’s works but does anything survive on disc? It would be fascinating to hear. Every solo fiddler’s favourite, the Act I introduction to The Golden Cockerel, is played en masse with suitable feeling There’s a wealth of melodic interest to be mined in Kitezh – and it duly is. Frisky strings add their allure to the Introduction to May Night abetted by luscious dance rhythms and prominent winds.

The final disc offers simply a reprise of the many delights and pleasures of the preceding five. The Russian Overture on Three Russian Themes is exciting but subtly paced whilst the Easter Festival Overture exudes nobility and gravity at every step. A fruity mezzo – rather torrid in the accepted Russian way – sings From Homer with equally fervent colleagues. That heroically bronzed tribute to M. Belayev, On the Tomb, emerges with unstoppable grandeur. But Svetlanov is careful not to overplay the easy lyricism of the Sinfonietta on Russian Themes – which emerges all the stronger for it.

The fine notes compress a lot of detail into a relatively short space. Recording detail is woolly and inaccurate. And I’m not saying that you’ll never need another Rimsky disc as long as your organs keep working – there are obvious examples where you can augment – but I can say that this is now the essential Rimsky box; comprehensive, brilliant, colourful, intense, incisive, effervescent, grave and celebratory.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Dan Morgan




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