Mussorgsky: Sunless; Scherzo in B flat; Intermezzo in modo classico; Khovanshchina (excerpts); Sorochintsy Fair (excerpts); Boris Godunov (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Sunless; Scherzo in B flat; Intermezzo in modo classico; Khovanshchina (excerpts); Sorochintsy Fair (excerpts); Boris Godunov (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Nathalia Gerasimova (soprano); Russian State SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68406 2
An uncompromising survey that can only be targeted at those collecting the Svetlanov/RCA ‘Russian Five’ series. The wide-ranging programme covers two concert pieces (but not the Night on St John’s Mountain in any shape), orchestral music from the operas (but not the glorious Khovanshchina Prelude) and an unexpected choice of song cycle. None of the performing versions is by Mussorgsky himself – not even the Boris extracts nor the Khovanshchina numbers attributed by implication to the composer but surely decked out by Rimsky-Korsakov – though he orchestrated so little that it’s hardly surprising.

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There is at least an authentic Mussorgskyan earthiness in the delivery. Svetlanov favours expansive tempi but also coaxes far more sophisticated playing from his orchestra than in their Mahler cycle (a broad, rich recording helps). This is an ideal combination for the Intermezzo in modo classico, where Bach and the muzhiks hold hands, and the ‘Persian Maidens’ Dance’. The serious heart of the matter is Svetlanov’s restrained arrangement of Sunless. Although the sustained piano chords of the original do seem to cry out for strings, the feeling of intimate accompanied recitative is partly lost and only the hypnotic cantilena of the final song works better here. But then Gerasimova’s sometimes over-bright tone hardly conveys the tensions between past happiness, present isolation and willed oblivion in the comfortless text (no translation provided). David Nice