Borodin, Musorgsky

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Borodin,Musorgsky
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Borodin, Musorgsky
WORKS: BorodinSymphony No. 2; Polovtsian DancesMusorgskyPictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 517 5822

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Internationalism rules in Rattle’s interesting trio of Russian masterpieces. Since Musorgsky based his impressions on scenes by his dead friend Hartmann, ranging from France and Italy to Poland and the Ukraine, it’s clearly nonsense to whine about Ravel’s lack of ‘Slavic’ authenticity. Rugged he certainly is when appropriate, though those passages – the colossal hymn of forced labour in ‘Bydlo’, the Kiev pageant – hardly find the Berlin Philharmonic pulling all the stops out. Sir Simon seems most fascinated by the more introspectively tinted promenades, the watercolour of the Italian serenade and the delicacy of the children’s games in the Tuileries. The pianissimos are exactly that, and very atmospheric in the heart of the memorial tribute, ‘With the dead in the language of the dead’. The rest lacks the pictorial quirks of Jansons’s Oslo Philharmonic account. From Musorgsky’s early Orthodox celebration of Kievan Rus we step back to the pagan Russia of Borodin’s Prince Igor, which coloured the composer’s work on the Second Symphony. Here again the roaring is restrained, the first‑movement development hides behind Brahmsian mists and the Scherzo lacks ideal vivacity; Tjeknavorian in his heyday gave us a much better sense of the lion which turns into a playful kitten. But the first thing that prompts me to hold on to this disc is its very serious and sustained slow movement, which is beautifully lit by the Philharmonie recording and the BPO oboist throughout; the second, is the way it makes us forget the alternative ladies’ chorus once the ‘Stranger in Paradise’ wends its soulful way. David Nice