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Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
The Borodin Edition
Symphony No. 1, In The Steppes of Central Asia (CD 1)
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (CD 2)
String quartet No. 1 in A, Piano Quintet in C Minor (CD 3)
String quartet No. 2 in D, String Quintet in F Minor, Serenate Alla Spagnola (CD 4)
Sextet in D Minor, String Trio in G Minor, String Trio in G, Piano Trio in D (CD 5)
Piano music (CD 6)
Songs and romances (CD 7)
Prince Igor (CDs 8-10)
Various artists
Fuller contents list at end of review
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94410 [10 CDs: 609:08]

As with their Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Strauss, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich Editions, Brilliant Classics here offer the only truly extensive Borodin collection on the market.
 
The set’s lineage can in part be traced to existing smaller Brilliant issues: the piano music (93894), the chamber music (93973) and the symphonies (94453). To this are added a Delos-licensed single disc (DE3277) of the Complete Songs and Romances and a late 1980s full digital Sony celebrity Prince Igor (S3K44878). There has never been anything like this set - at least not for Borodin.
 
Russian, or at least ex-Soviet Bloc artists (Armenian and Bulgarian) predominate with the only exception being the Italian pianists who are heard in the piano music.
 
Brilliant Classics lay no claims to completeness. This is not everything that Borodin ever wrote but there’s not that much that is left out. Certainly every genre he tackled is represented and sometimes pretty thoroughly. Offhand I can only think of the orchestration of the Petite Suite that was recorded by Tjeknavorian for RCA and Järvi for Chandos in the 1970s. Then there’s a movement from one of the string quartets the originals of which are here and the orchestral versions of a couple of the songs which you could hear on Chandos or Brilliant Classics as part of the Järvi symphonies double. Rapetti can be relied on to let us hear the piano original of the Petite Suite on CD6. Another small lacuna is the Act IV finale of Mlada - a cooperative opera left incomplete - with Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Minkus all participating. Tjeknavorian included it in his LP box set.
 
Borodin’s collegiate creativity, posthumous and lifetime, is there to hear from the composite piano works, to the ministrations of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov in Igor to Glazunov’s completion of the unfairly dismissed Third Symphony.
 
The performances are not also-rans. We hear Mark Ermler and the Bolshoi orchestra in the symphonies with the same vigorous sense of theatre that he brought to the Tchaikovsky ballets. At one time Brilliant had a licence for the Järvi-Stockholm Chandos set (93348); that must have expired and Ermler stepping gamely forward is no mere consolation prize. Loris Tjekavorian, whose analogue set of the symphonies still holds great allure, is here with In The Steppes of Central Asia from his glory days with ASV. Emil Tchakarov turns in a strong - perhaps coarse but certainly vivid - Prince Igor. It has a starry cast including Nikolai Ghiaurov at the centre. If the other singers in Igor are less familiar they raise few causes for dissatisfaction. It was made in the composer’s centenary year. Sony did a little series of Russian operas from Sofia in the 1980s, spilling over into the 1990s. I hope that we will see the others restored. It’s a while since I have heard them but my impression is that this Sony line-up, all under Tchakarov, is generally pretty good if you err on the side of ruddy virility.
 
The nine page Brilliant Classics booklet note in English only is by David Nice and the sung words with translations are to be found as a pdf download on the Brilliant Classics website via this page.
 
The usual stiff-card clamshell box is in light olive livery and holds the ten CDs plus a booklet. Each disc is in its own substantial card sleeve with the contents, artist list and provenance printed on the back.
 
How unfair it must have seemed to the others that Borodin, a spare-time composer whose main career was as a research chemist, became the most famous of the ‘Kouchka’ - the 'Mighty Handful': the five Russian composers who included Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky. Allowance must be made for Rimsky’s Scheherazade but Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, Second Symphony and ‘that tune’ from the Second String Quartet rank now in majority public affection higher than anything produced by the others.
 
His music’s standing even survived the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet as adapted by Robert Wright and George Forrest. Some might argue that the music actually found a wider audience as a result of that musical in a way that Grieg’s music never needed through the same Wright and Forrest’s Song of Norway (1944).
 
The trio of chamber music CDs is unique. The two string quartets are not rare birds. In fact the Second with its Nocturne which has become Baubles, Bangles and Beads courtesy of Wright and Forrest tends to feature in most ‘Best of Borodin’ collections, though often in an orchestral transcription. The rest of it is either rare or unique in these recordings.
 
The First Quartet is a pretty sober party-beast in the first two movements and at the start of the last. The breathless third movement Scherzo and the end of the finale are closer to the composer’s naturally joyous stride. The Piano Quintet is again puritanically serious, swinging into gloomy. The central scherzo mixes wild Russian dance and elements of fugue. This Mendelssohnian fluffiness also surfaces in the otherwise overcast finale which in any event ends in brooding shadows.
 
The Second Quartet shakes off the predominant ‘brown study’ hanging over CD3. There’s grace here - delicacy, dancing and delight. The piercingly poignant solo violin of Alexander Detinov sings out in the Nocturne, which ends in a quiet valediction. The less frequently encountered finale spins along at speed and the players seem to lap up challenges, to all of which they are equal. The finale reminds us of similar passages in the first two symphonies.
 
The String Quintet is again fairly sober and determined - earnestly Beethovenian but its first movement ends with a rare fragility. There’s a trend developing here: Borodin had to shake off unsmiling Teutonic inclinations before he could beguile with Russian nationalism. The Serenata alla Spagnola is a brevity but full of the very engaging freshness that fights to put in an appearance elsewhere in the chamber music apart from in the string quartets - superb pizzicato sound here.
 
The little Sextet in D minor works well. There’s a touch of Mendelssohn’s elfin Octet here and an Andante that sets up a juicily counter-pointed tension. There are just two movements. The single movement trio in G minor on What have I done to hurt you is a smooth and rather placidly Mozartean production. The two-movement Trio in G is off the same inspirational shelf. While the Andante - again a second and last movement, like the Sextet - moves in pretty much the same circles. You would never know that this is Borodin, the Russian nationalist. The Piano Trio is in three fully developed movements. It drives forward with splendid energy but with nary a glimmer of nationalist flavouring. Fervour aplenty but you must not expect to find the Polovtsian Dances or the Second Symphony writ small.  
The tone of the players on these three discs is lean and not lush; certainly unequivocal and well forward. I might complain a little about there being few really quiet soft passages but these feel well-centred and caringly prepared performances.
 
Marco Rapetti presides over the piano music. He has previously recorded the piano music of Lyapunov, as well as the Dukas sonata and works for two pianos by Malipiero. This set features first recordings of In the Steppes of Central Asia in the composer’s arrangement for four hands; likewise four other pieces. All of this is nice to have but not compelling.
 
After the neatly done solo piano music we are introduced to the 16 songs and romances - just over 47 minutes in total. These take a stronger Russian accent and flavour from the stern bass song with cello and piano, The Pretty Girl to the similarly specified lugubrious Listen to my Song, this time for mezzo. There’s the delicate and dancing The Beautiful Fisher Woman for tenor. Why so early for baritone is as serious as much of the music on the three chamber CDs. Many of these songs are quite ‘advanced’ in relation to the chamber music including the French-flavoured The sea princess to words by Borodin himself, as are five others out of the 16. As for the others there is the urgently imploring tone and plangently regretful From My Heart to the defiantly assertive The Sea with its stormy heaving deck. There’s a strangely exploratory piano part sounding for all the world like Cyril Scott in The Magic Garden. The final song is for bass: Arabian Melody is a typically lugubrious ballad.
 
There’s nothing approaching this box - at least not as a single composite purchase. Speaking of which, we should remember that the price point is lower bargain. Money issues aside this is a very attractive collection. It gathers together all you are likely to need and quite a bit of what you might want from Borodin. Its value greatly exceeds the modest investment required.  

Rob Barnett 

Previous review: Paul Godfrey 

Full Contents List 
CDs 1-2 [43.48 + 49.35]
Symphony No. 1 in E flat (1867) [36.13]
Symphony No. 2 in B minor (1876) [30.02]
Symphony No. 3 in A minor (1887) [19.33]
Symphonic Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre/Mark Ermler
In the steppes of Central Asia (1880) [7.35]
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/Loris Tjeknavorian
rec. Yerevan, Armenia, 1994-6 and 2000
CDs 3-4 [67.26 + 58.13]
String Quartet No. 1 in A (1880) [41.21]
String Quartet No. 2 in D (1885) [28.21]  
Serenata alla spagnola (1886) [2.17]
String Quintet in F minor (1854) [29.35]1
Piano Quintet in C minor (1862) [26.05]2
Moscow String Quartet with Alexander Gotthelf (cello)1, Alexander Mindoiantz (piano)2
rec. location not stated, 1995
CD 5 [56.05]
Sextet in D minor (1861) [8.11]1
Trio in G minor on a Russian song What have I done to you? (1859) [7.01]2
Trio in G (1860) [18.53]2
Piano Trio in D (1862) [22.01]3
Alexander Detisov and Alexander Polonsky (violins),12 Igor Suliga and Alexander Brobovsky (violas),1 Alexander Osokin12 and Alexander Gotthelf1, cellos: Moscow Piano Trio3
rec. location not stated, 1995
CD 6 [76.59]
Petite Suite (1885) [23.36] 76.59
Scherzo in A flat (1885) [3.16]
In the steppes of Central Asia (1880) [7.36]1
Paraphrases (1878-9) with Liszt, Liadov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui [25.03]12
Tarantella in D (1862) [4.22]1
Allegretto in D flat (1861) [1.43]2
Scherzo in E (1861) [4.16]2
Adagio patetico in A flat (1849) [4.03]
Polka Hélène in D minor (1843) [2.10]2
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
A la manière de Borodine (1913) [1.44]
Marco Rapetti (piano) with Daniela de Santis1 and Giampaolo Nuti1
rec. Villa Vespucci, San Felice a Ema, Florence, 3-5 September 2008
CD 7 [47.12]
The pretty girl no longer loves me (1854) [4.02]45
Listen to my song, little friend (1854) [3.48]15
The beautiful fisher woman (1854) [1.32]25
Why so early, O sunset? (1864) [2.28]3
The sleeping princess (1867) [5.30]1
My songs are poisoned (1868) [1.34]4
The sea princess (1868) [2.40]1
The false note (1868) [1.18]2
Song of the dark forest (1868) [3.10]4
From my tears (1868) [1.43]4
The sea (1870) [3.47]2
Pride (1884) [3.25]4
For the shores of thy far native land (1881) [4.05]1
Those folk (1881) [3.26]3
The magic garden (1885) [2.15]4
Arabian melody (1881) [2.30]4
Marianna Tarassova (mezzo)1, Konstantin Pluzhnikov (tenor)2, Andrey Slavny (baritone)3, Nikolai Okhotnikov (bass)4, Irina Molokina (cello)5, Yuri Serov (piano)
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, March 1995
CDs 8-10 [73.12 + 73.17 + 63.21]
Prince Igor - opera in four acts and a prologue (1869-1887)
Vladimir - Kaludi Kaludov (tenor), Prince Igor - Boris Martinovich (baritone), Prince Galitsky - Nicolai Ghiuselev (bass), Khan Konchak - Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass), Konchakovna - Alexandrina Milcheva (mezzo), Skula - Stoil Georgiev (bass), Ovlur - Mincho Popov (tenor), Yeroshka - Angel Petkov (tenor), Polovtsian Girl - Elena Stoyanova (mezzo), Yaroslavna - Stefka Evstatieva (soprano)
Sofia National Opera Chorus, Sofia Festival Orchestra/Emil Tchakarov
rec. National Palace of Culture, Sofia, 14-20 July 1987


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