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 needs to be fully exposed. It is this aspect that is so obviously missing, especially in the opening movement which, to my mind, comes over as rather a portly characterisation. 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 - `grabs one by the throat' is the effect, and it never lets go! That CD disc also serves as a good example that it does not require a Russian orchestra and/or conductor to achieve the correct sort of Russian volatility which is so clearly missing here. To be fair, things improve as the symphony continues and the finale nips along very well, if rather safely.
The Mussorgsky half of this concert is altogether more successful, especially the Pictures. This is largely because the music is more European in its conceptual nature and possibly also because 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. They finally let their musical hair down in the Shostakovich encore from The Golden Age.
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. In my opinion, and bearing in mind my reservations about the lack of innate Russian temperament, I feel the fairest overall rating would be 4 stars for this disc.