Symphonies Nos. 1-3
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Borodin' symphonies exude lyricism and panache. The First took five years to complete but is a work of seamless melodic invention owing something to Mendelssohn, whose influence infuses it with delicious lightness. The Second Symphony is a more explicitly
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Symphonies No. 1 & 3 by Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR State Academic Orchestra, 1983 (Le Chant du Monde)
Symphonies No. 1, 2 & 3 by Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, 1990 (Deutsche Grammophon)
Symphony No. 2 by Enrique Batiz and the Symphony Orchestra of the State of Mexico, 1984 (MusicMasters)
Symphony No. 2 by Anshel Brusilow and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, 1976 (EMI)
In comparison with the others, I find the sound quality on this recording top notch (obviously, it is the latest recording and has every advantage in available technology). This is especially apparent when listening through headphones.
This disc brings out details in the First Symphony I had not found in the aforementioned recordings, especially in the woodwinds. This recording even sounds good in my car, which is less than an ideal context.
I separate performances of the Second Symphony into two basic camps-- those that start out slow or fast. Yes, this is simplistic. Schwarz takes the fast route (along with Batiz), making the opening sound dramatic but not too menacing. Brusilow and Jarvi's recordings begin sounding heavy and melodramatic in comparison. The difference in tempo becomes the most apparent in the third movement (Andante). Had I not heard the other recordings first I would not have thought this performance at all unusual, so I take the preference in tempo to be one of personal taste. The Finale sounds the most similar to others' performances, and it rounds off the work with an exciting, folksy end to Borodin's most Russian-sounding symphony.
While the Third Symphony is played well on this recording, I prefer Svetlanov's performance. Svetlanov and the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra imbue Borodin's Third with a melancholic feeling this and Jarvi's versions lack. I am not saying that Schwarz and Seattle's performance here is "wrong" or "bad," I simply think they lack the nostalgic, sweet sadness Svetlanov brought out of the work. The trade off is that this recording sounds clearer and fuller, and this disc includes Symphony No. 2.
This disc's biggest advantage is that it contains all three symphonies at a modest price. When I bought Svetlanov's recording years ago it set me back $18.99 for just one disc containing Symphonies 1 & 3. Jarvi's recordings came in a two-disc set for all symphonies plus extras, and that was over $30. This disc cost me less than $10. Those new to Borodin's symphonies would do well to start with this disc, and Borodin fans will find this a welcome addition to their collections. Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony do not add anything unusual or unique, but they play with inspiration and attention to detail.
The Third Symphony is such an interesting work, a reconstruction by Glazunov of sketches of two movements left unfinished by Borodin at his death. A spare and wistful work, it's an impressive achievement in its own right, but also sadly points to what might have been if the composer hadn't died so young.