WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in C; Russian Easter Festival Overture; Piano Concerto in C sharp minor; Sadko
PERFORMER: Geoffrey Tozer (piano)Bergen PO/Dmitri Kitaenko
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9229 DDD
These two discs bring together eight of Rimsky-Korsakov’s shorter compositions. They have one piece in common, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and though the running times are logged as being within a second of each other, a direct comparison reveals that less than three minutes into the piece Lazarev and the Bolshoi are lagging a good 30 seconds behind Kitaenko and the Bergen. Where the Scandinavians glide somewhat glibly through the introduction, the Russians immediately introduce a note of highly atmospheric tension.
You don’t need a degree in maths to realise that Lazarev has to make up the lost time by accelerating dramatically. It is this liberal approach to tempi that gives his performance vitality and wit, where Kitaenko can offer only a somewhat superfluous refinement. The Bergen’s glacial string sound is impressively smooth but the grainy texture of the Bolshoi is more appealing. At the risk of trying to pigeonhole the two orchestras, this contrast holds good. For example, Lazarev’s Capriccio espagnol is demonic, brassy and exhilarating, while Kitaenko struggles to bring life to the Third Symphony.
There is bound to be an exception, and in this case Geoffrey Tozer’s splendid performance of the Piano Concerto saves the Chandos disc from mediocrity. This piece is a mere 13 minutes long, but its Romantic heart overflows with warmth and clarity. It deserves greater popularity. Christopher Lambton