Rimsky-Korsakov: Orchestral Suites

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COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Snow Maiden – Suite; Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya – Suite; Mlada – Night on Mount Triglav
PERFORMER: Russian National Orch/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 362

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s gorgeous orchestral colours, here richly played and caught with a vividness arresting even for SACD, too often make us undervalue the music’s actual content. Rimsky’s pantheist nature-worship in particular is given less than its due in the unhelpful booklet note. The Snow Maiden is no mere fairy tale, but is based on a drama by Ostrovsky (whose The Storm became Katya Kabanova).

Its clash between humanity and archetypal natural forces, destroying the pathetic Snowmaiden, is as primally significant as the Kalevala for Sibelius, and underlines the music’s lyricism and bounding exuberance, almost overpowering in Pletnev’s ‘Tumblers’ Dance’.

Not for nothing, either, is Kitezh sometimes referred to as ‘the Russian Parsifal’, fusing the pagan legend of the city made invisible to marauding Tartars with the sacrificial Christian figure of Fevroniya, a transcendence reflected in the beautiful opening Hymn to Solitude, and the final apotheosis. Pletnev is again powerful, if slightly ponderous.

Mlada originated as a joint project by the ‘Mighty Handful’ composers, for which Musorgsky wrote Night on the Bare Mountain. This is Rimsky’s take on that scene, in which a prince searches in sleep for his murdered bride at a diabolical Sabbat, with some weirdly atmospheric orchestration.

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Pletnev gives it immense scale, but rather less mystery than offered by Igor Golovschin on Naxos, or by Neeme Järvi on Chandos; neither, though, matches this spectacular recording. Michael Scott Rohan