Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2 (Antar)

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COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2 (Antar)
PERFORMER: State SO of Russia/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62558 2 DDD
Having run the gamut of the Russian symphonic repertoire under Melodiya, Svetlanov is starting all over again with the same orchestra he built up so spectacularly in the late Sixties. So far, RCA has encouraged him to avoid the obvious; this third volume twins one Rimsky-Korsakov symphony which merits virtual oblivion with another which deserves to be as popular as Sheherazade.

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The First Symphony needs special help. Järvi, on DG, refused to stand on the kind of Schumannesque ceremony which the outer movements drily propose. Svetlanov takes his time, and the results are four-square; only the Introduction and the Andante variations on a Russian folksong – composed by the 17-year-old naval cadet while his ship lay at anchor off Gravesend – reflect the dark atmosphere at which Svetlanov’s team excels.

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Antar was revised not just once, like its predecessor, but thrice. Rival recordings prefer the sophisticated magic of Rimsky the old master; Svetlanov plumps for the first revision of 1875, preserving the wild, Mussorgskian effects of the original. The ensemble can be less than precise, and the third-movement march here outstays its welcome; but its predecessor, in which the oriental hero of the title tastes the joy of vengeance, is raw and vital. If only more of the music on this disc allowed for such spectacularly recorded opulence. David Nice