There's the music, for one thing. Pletnev has assembled the well-known (Glinka, Borodin, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, Mussorgsky), the lesser known (Rimsky), and just about unknown (Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Glazounov) to create a winning program that, just when you think you've heard it all before, pops a surprise or two on you. Prokofiev's work is restrained and sauve, Tchaikovsky's and Glazounov's pieces big-boned and noisily dramatic. And that's the way Pletnev's programming works: the fleet and brilliant balanced by the grand and stately, the boisterous by the darkly passionate.
The playing is of course to the manner born. Glazounov never quite adds up when played by a Western orchestra, but Pletnev states the composer's case very clearly and firmly. So, too, with the lesser bit of Tchaikovsky. But I find Pletnev's way with all this music, even his breakneck Glinka, compelling.
In fact, I'd give this CD five stars except that the sound leaves something to be desired. Is it a bit lacking in presence? A bit strident? Both? Usually I can put my finger on a failing in this arena, but here I'm not sure what the trouble is--just that this is not DG's best work. Still, for a well-thought-out, well-executed program of Russian music, you can't go wrong with this CD.