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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Dubinushka (1905-6) [4.44]
Suite from The Golden Cockerel (compiled Glazunov and Steinberg) (1907) [30.01]
Suite from The Snow Maiden (1881) [8.27]
Pan Voyevoda: Nocturne; Polonaise (1903) [10.48]
The Maid of Pskov: In the woods; Tsar's Hunt and Storm (1871) [7.58]
Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888) [14.18]
USSR Symphony Orchestra, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow? 1971, 1985, ADD/DDD
ALTO ALC1345 [76.54]

All the stars are in the right alignment here: Svetlanov, two great Soviet orchestras of the 1970s and 1980s and a tightly packed budget price disc. You might take exception to the slight glare of the sound but in return these twelve tracks deliver full throttle in brilliance and gripping imagination. This conductor does not race - unlike his breathtaking teacher Nikolai Golovanov. He takes the slower episodes very broadly but it never descends to routine.

The music is iridescent whether in fairy-tale fantasy or in sardonic mode. The latter can be heard in The Golden Cockerel suite where Rimsky is almost Prokofiev-like. In this suite, and in Rimsky's other major works, I still hold firm in my loyalty to the plush deep-pile Gobelin imagery of Ormandy's Philadelphia on Sony but Svetlanov is no also-ran.

The digital clarity of Dubinushka and Cockerel contrasts with the brightness, warmth and 'surface' of the analogue Snow Maiden and Voyevoda tracks. After these come the Pskov extracts: fancy-filled digital transparency. The Russian Easter Festival Overture stands head and shoulders above the other works here in its concentration, conviction and cohesion.

If you are in the market for a selection of the theatre music this remains an anthology to beat, stiffened by the Russian Easter Festival Overture. This collection first appeared on Regis. Since then there have appeared some excellent contenders including Schwarz and Tjeknavorian. There is a comparable Ansermet collection but he remains a lower-key choice on this occasion.

James Murray's liner-notes are well worth reading.

Music-making that is brightly lit and exciting … sumptuous yet athletic.

Rob Barnett


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