Faint praise of the damning variety is, I'm afraid, the best I can muster for this 1988 Naxos effort which combines two 'evergreens' (Chabrier's 'Espana' and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Capriccio Espagnol') with much less well-known pieces by Massenet, Glinka and Elgar, thus bringing music and composers to one's attention that one would not normally associate with Spain. It will be remarked that on this 'Spanish Festival' there is no actual Spanish music at all, only foreigners' attempts at creating 'music with a Spanish flavour', as the Naxos blurb would have it.
Frankly, the playing on this disc is manifestly mediocre. In fact, I had the distinct impression that Keith Clark was attempting to hide the weaknesses of the orchestra (particularly in the strings) by over-emphasizing the rhythm, overdoing the percussion and frantically spurring his Slovakian musicians on to ever-louder, ever more frenzied crescendos. The Massenet, with all its Spanish clichées, would probably sound a lot better if Clark and co. had not tried to 'push' the Spanish elements so much; and the Rimsky-Korsakov, which Keith Anderson in his notes correctly points out as being a 'display of orchestral colour', ends up so mannered that I find it very difficult to listen to at all.
I had the privilege of comparing the two 'evergreens' with older, similarly-priced Polydor recordings. The Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic, Warsaw, directed by Jerzy Semkow, proved in 1970 that an Eastern European Orchestra can play Chabrier in a much more listener-friendly way, and the slightly cavernous sound is still a lot better than the pretty awful Naxos offering. Lorin Maazel and the Berlin Philharmonic recorded the 'Capriccio Espagnol' in 1960, and here there is just no comparison: Wonderful sound, glorious musicianship, clarity of concept ... all those things which the Naxos CD is unfortunately missing.
The two pieces by Mikhail Glinka (published about 35 years before the other pieces on the disc) are musically so good that they just about survive the onslaughts of Clark and the CSR SO, although to my mind the use of the brass, in particular, sounds definitely Russian, despite the orchestra's attempts to put the Spanish elements in the foreground. But if this CD is worth buying at all, then for the Glinka.