The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music – or Symphonic as one ought to amend it – was a colossal undertaking. Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony Orchestra, though there’s one appearance here by the Bolshoi, proved to be, and remain, exponents of the most galvanising and expert kind. Not every performance is necessarily the greatest ever committed to disc but a fair few are.
This three-disc set is devoted to Glinka. It’s necessarily, given the repertoire, rather "bitty" – and one can here make a distinction with other sets; the Rachmaninoff for example or the Arensky. So whilst there are fewer opportunities for wide ranging symphonic control there areRead more certainly opportunities for convulsive dance rhythms, topical colour, and vibrant personality.
The Patriotic Song is grandly orchestrated by Svetlanov’s teacher Alexander Gauk, to whom Brilliant has just devoted a large retrospective box set; and not before time. There is a florid, but unidentified, tenor in the Prayer. Meanwhile Glinka’s Hummel arrangement moves from bombast to gossamer with delightful elegance. The Overture in G minor has strong Beethovenian currents whereas its companion overture, the one in D major, cleaves closer to Rossini. The Symphony on Two Russian Themes of 1834 is heard in the edition made by Shebalin and there’s plenty of folkloric colour here and potent, stoic lyricism.
The second disc opens with Jota Aragonesa, Spanish Overture No. 1, whose stern Iberian opening soon opens out into burnished colour. True there’s something of a generic postcard feel but when the performance is as gutsy as this one you won’t mind at all. There’s more Spanishry in Summer Night in Madrid, which is ebulliently dispatched – the strings are especially captivating here. Vitality and excitement are the qualities that inform this and so much else in this set. The incidental music to Prince Kholmsky allows one to appreciate the noble side of Glinka’s imagination – try the Entr’acte to Act II – as well as his deft skill at characterisation of which the slightly pomposo feel of the Act IV Entr’acte is a classic example. The Premiere Polka was orchestrated by Balakirev – it’s a snappy, buoyant and light hearted affair.
The final disc delves deeper into operatic overtures and incidental music. The winds are at their most eloquent in the overture to Ivan Susanin where we find the trumpets at their most exciting and blaring. Talking of this opera there’s a lissom Cracovienne, and a deliciously sprung Waltz. The overture to Ruslan and Ludmila is taken at a Svetlanov, therefore not Mravinsky, tempo. And there are exotic aural delights a-plenty here not least in the Oriental dances from Chernomor’s Castle. To end there’s the attractive lyricism of the Andante cantabile and Rondo.
The booklet is in Russian and English – the latter deftly written by MusicWeb’s Rob Barnett. Those who like full-blooded but often subtly contoured music making will take this opportunity to collate their Glinka-Svetlanov. These performances have all been around before so far as I can tell. A tranche was on Moscow Studio Archives 20017 for example whilst others turned up on Le Chant du Monde LDC278 819 – and so on. Here though the collection is in Anthology livery and well worthy of your time.