Borodin: Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Borodin,Musorgsky,Shostakovich
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Borodin: Symphony No. 2; Polovtsian Dances; Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); Khovanshchina – Introduction; Shostakovich: The Golden Age – Dance


Far from the unbridled spectacular Valery Gergiev might make of it in St Petersburg, this is a sophisticated Russian New Year’s Eve event from Berlin. Three of the performances will be familiar from the EMI CD (reviewed August 2008), and even with the Berlin Philharmonie bathed in blues and oranges – an attempt, perhaps, to create a Ballets Russes buzz in Bakst colours – the impression remains that Rattle brings off the subtler, more atmospheric passages best.

Again I’m impressed by the supple lead the BPO principal oboist gives in the first of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances – no chorus – while clarinet and horn manage to trump their achievement in the third, and here the most successful, movement of the Borodin Second Symphony with even more exquisite playing at the end of the Khovanshchina Prelude (not featured on the CD).

Camerawork highlights Ravel’s unexpected use of solo instruments in his orchestration of Pictures – celesta and harp in ‘Gnomus’, gleaming saxophone for ‘The Old Castle’ – and offers panning shots from the back of the orchestra and from above in the climaxes of ‘Bydlo’ and the ‘Great Gate’. Avoiding true earthiness, the Berlin strings are always articulate and Musorgsky’s French-accented chatter in the Tuileries and Limoges is personably handled by the woodwind.


The gloves are finally removed for the encore, the raucous company dance from Shostakovich’s Age of Gold. Not the whole story, then, but the brushstrokes are accomplished and always thoughtful. David Nice