This Russian-themed concert from 2007 is performed at the expected high standards of the BPO under Simon Rattle. Its success, when judged against the highest of interpretive standards, is a little more varied however while still being an enjoyable concert overall.
The opening Polovtsian Dances make a good opening number and are given a comfortably secure reading which makes full use of the tonal resources of the orchestra. It is the following second symphony of Borodin that doubts really start to appear. This is a very major Russian work and the Russian temperament ideally needs to be fully exposed. It is this aspect that is so obviously missing, especially in the opening movement. Those who are familiar with the famous Decca recording of the work with Martinon conducting the LSO on top form will know exactly what I mean here. That performance sizzles from the start and serves as a good example that it does not require a Russian orchestra and/or conductor to achieve the Russian volatility that is missing here. However, to be fair, the Borodin pieces could be described as very good, mid-European performances.
The Mussorgsky half of this concert is totally successful. The Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Ravel, is also more European in its conceptual nature and suits this orchestra well. The music has long been a staple item in the orchestra's repertoire, even going back to an admired recording by Karajan in the 1960's. The piece features many solo passages and it is in these that the individual players excel. The larger moments also suit the accumulative tonal resources and power of this impressive group of musicians. The Khovanshchina introduction is an object lesson in sustained quiet expressive playing, even almost to the point of inaudibility at times. The orchestra let their musical hair down in the Shostakovich encore from The Golden Age which is played with considerable verve.
The imaging is very crisp and of excellent colour rendition. The camera work is involving throughout. The sound is faithfully reproduced and presented in DTS-HD 5.1 as well as stereo.
This is a very enjoyable concert if not very Russian in feel. It should nevertheless give considerable satisfaction as an example of a central European way of playing the music to a very high standard.