Musorgsky • Shchedrin
Kabalevsky: Colas Breugnon Overture; Khachaturian: Spartacus – excerpts; Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); Rachmaninov: ‘How beautiful it is here’ (arr. T Jackson); Shchedrin: Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (Naughty Limericks)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Onyx ONYX 4211 73:51 mins
Not quite what used to be called a ‘Russian spectacular’ – Khachaturian, after all, was a Soviet Armenian – this entertainment alternates between relatively unfamiliar short works and famous showstoppers. Petrenko and his Liverpool players make the liveliest possible argument for Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon Overture – a Russian Till Eulenspiegel, a precursor of Bernstein’s Candide Overture with its fabulously catchy, jazzy syncopations – and the moto perpetuo of Shchedrin’s First Concerto, nicknamed ‘Naughty Limericks’, its bass funkiness jolted by snaps and shocks from the brass and percussion.
There’s not been a finer balance of direct poetry and brazen oom-pah in the usual suspects from Khachaturian’s big Roman ballet Spartacus; careful pacing makes the swoons of the famous Adagio un-hackeneyed, and Aegina’s variation turns into a Bacchanalia at high-octane speed. Petrenko’s Musorgsky-Ravel begins with smooth solo trumpet, glinting in a brilliant if marginally over-forward recording, and ends with magnificent resonance from bells and tam-tam. If it’s not quite as startlingly fresh as Noseda’s recent LSO Live Pictures, it enjoys a similar sense of continuity and head-on collisions between very different canvasses (Catacomb blast in the midst of the Limoges marketplace babble, witch Baba Yaga crashing into Kievan splendour) . The quiet encore, Rachmaninov’s song ‘Zdes’ khorosho’ (‘How beautiful it is here’), orchestrated with authentic subtlety by Timothy Jackson, is a winner. Petrenko is notching up a sizeable discography with his two orchestras in Liverpool and Oslo; nearly all the collaborations so far deserve to survive in the catalogue.