Borodin: Symphonies Nos. 1-3; Overture & Polovtsian Dances from

Borodin: Symphonies Nos. 1-3; Overture & Polovtsian Dances from "Prince Igor"; In the Steppes of Central Asia

by Andrew Davis
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Borodin: Symphonies Nos. 1-3; Overture & Polovtsian Dances from "Prince Igor"; In the Steppes of Central Asia 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
FugitiveVision More than 1 year ago
These bracing performances were originally issued in 1977 on three Columbia LPs. At the time I was a fledgling classical music announcer with a brand new public radio station in Birmingham, Alabama. Our listeners loved these recordings, and it's easy to see why they were so popular. From the beloved Polovtsian Dances to the little-known First and Third Symphonies, Borodin's scores are richly melodic, exotically colorful, and immediately appealing. The 1970s were not a great time for classical music. The composers of the era (with a few notable exceptions) wrote music that was cold, dry, and deeply intellectual. Performers, too, became emotionally cool and dispassionate. Gone were the "romantic excesses" of the recent past. Instead, musicians were admonished by critics and musicologists to follow the letter of the score as if it were holy writ and avoid all unnecessary expression or interpretation. The other arts suffered a similar fate. See, for example, Susan Sontag's book of essays "Against Interpretation". Andrew Davis was no exception to this rule. Undoubtedly that is why, to this day, I don't care for most of his recordings. Sometimes, though, a splash of ice water is just what the doctor ordered, and it works unexpectedly well here. Davis's tempos are brisk and bracing. Just listen to the way he tears into the finale from the Second Symphony. Even his andantes move along smartly, though nothing ever sounds rushed. Indeed the crisp pacing inevitable heightens the excitement inherent in the music. Textures are light and lean, as if the music had been scored by Stravinsky rather than a 19th century romantic. Perhaps Toronto couldn't afford more strings, and I do prefer a richer sonority (as in Loris Tjeknavorian's wonderful RCA recording). Still, this ensemble seems ideally suited to Davis' overall concept. The greatest flaw is the dry, clinical sound--also typical of its era. Fortunately, Borodin's scoring is so lavish that this hardly matters. Even the disembodied chorus in the Polovtsian Dances, which sounds as though it was dubbed in long after the orchestral sessions, does not undermine our enjoyment. RCA (Tjeknavorian) and Naxos (Stephen Gunzenhauser) both manage to squeeze all three symphonies onto a single disc, and both conductors find more color and depth of emotion in the music. Newton requires two discs, but does at least supplement the symphonies with Davis's lively accounts of the Overture and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, Bernstein's gloriously romantic "In the Steppes of Central Asia", and a pathetically bland transcription of the Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 with the St. Petersburg Camerata. And who can resist a record label whose mascot is a fire-breathing newt?