ALBUM TITLE: Balakirev, Kalinnikov
WORKS: First symphonies
PERFORMER: Moscow Philharmonic SO/Kirill Kondrashin
CATALOGUE NO: MEL CD 10 00956
Moscow in the early 1960s casts a rather severe light on two tuneful Russian symphonies of the 1890s (nationalist founding-father Balakirev’s took over 30 years to complete). Certainly Kondrashin was working hard to draw hard-hitting sounds from the city’s Philharmonic; together they would shortly give the world premieres of Shostakovich’s Fourth and 13th Symphonies. These works could hardly be more different. Sir Thomas Beecham’s celebrated championship of Balakirev’s First found more charm in the sprawling mix of Russian folk and oriental melodies, but Kondrashin’s imposing vision intermittently stuns with immensely powerful brass choruses and amazing energy in the third of the finale’s dance-songs. The violin section seems similarly cast from steel, but suffers from the Melodiya sound’s echo-chamber effect at the heart of the scherzo, only to emerge with flying colours in the second voluptuous melody of the slow movement.
Kalinnikov’s more modest and old-fashioned sounding work benefits from Kondrashin’s neo-classical focus and tighter sound, though it would be hard to pretend he was ever the ‘outstanding Russian composer’ of the Soviet stamp featured on the booklet’s back cover. Handsome performances, all the same, and those of us with a sneaking nostalgia for the inimitable Melodiya sound will be hoping for much more of the same from the current resurrection. David Nice