This is quite a spectacular disc for a number of reasons. For one thing, Naxos ingenious plans to include both the Rimsky-Korsakov and the original versions of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bare Mountain", the folkloristic Hopak dance from "Sorochinsky Fair", and Entr'acte to Act IV, Scene II of "Khovanshchina" with the "Pictures at an Exhibition" pays off extremely well. What's more is the quality of the recordings, which are among the most vivid and spectacular in the catalogue. These recordings capture the essence of the works flawlessly yet authentically, and huge dividends must be given to engineer Andrij Mokrysky and editor Vyacheslav Zhadanov for placing the microphones exactly at the right places. Editing does indeed pays off.
And Kuchar with the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine are among the biggest stars here. Kuchar's renditions are perfectly ideal and his treatment of the orchestral witches' sabbath have bite and raw excitement. And yet I don't feel overblown by this, but rewardingly overwhelmed. I cannot imagine a better delivery of the original version than what I've heard here. The brass and woodwinds are virtuousic and the strings are of real bloom, illuminance, and attack while the percussionists (especially the bass drummer) are menacing and spellbinding. Other recordings of the original "Night on Bare Mountain" sound too well-mannered and too faithful, while Kuchar takes it to new heights (and yet the essence of the piece and of the composer remains intact & even more authentic). Kuchar's performance of this version helps to dispel, at least in my view, the notion that the Rimsky-Korsakov version should continue to be the standard of the two.
Kuchar's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is likewise outstanding and to my mind the leader of the pack. The 'Promenade' sounds well enough, with appropriate majesty and fanfare. But the vivid and the colouristic qualities Kuchar and his ensemble bring forth in 'Gnomus' are sure signs of more of these to come. Every note on every bar are played as if another set of pictures are being painted and this team's sense of imagination cannot escape me even for a minute. Listen to 'Tuileries' and the 'Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells' and notice how playful yet rewardingly naive-sounding Kuchar turns them out to be. Kuchar's 'The Bydlo' is majestic, but turn to 'Catacombs', and you sense something's about to happen. The string tremolo in the next movement 'With the Dead in the Language of the Dead' is awesomely mysterious in Kuchar's hands. But the grandioseness in The Great Gate of Kiev is again spellbinding, with the percussionists (especially the bass drummer) really "hitting it on the head" here.
So,....while I'll prefer Svetlanov's performance of the Hopak dance and Entr'acte to Act IV, Scene II of "Khovanshchina" recorded by the BMG/RCA label (simply because they sound more authentically Russian and vivacious), Kuchar's a conductor with considerable vision and insightfulness. As in his previous recordings, especially of Lyatoshynsky's symphonies, Kuchar is a conductor who knows how each note is to be play and how and I cannot find anything bland in his readings. Simply put, his intuition shows depth in his understanding of the scores and on each listening, his recordings show more than one way of how a score can be approached (and I cannot envision a better Lyatoshyskian conductor than Kuchar). Moreover, the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine must be looked upon as a first class orchestra. It's a very impressive body of musicians whose as deep as Kuchar, and it is nice to notice how well this ensemble evolved over the past decade. Kuchar's introductions of obscure works, especially of American composers, I think plays a key role in improving the orchestra's sense of anticipation and maturity. I suspect that this well-versed team and its daring, insightful Conductor-Laureate for Life will continue to be talked about at least for quite some time.