Russian Symphonies = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Symphony; STRAVINSKY: Symphony, Scherzo Fantastique – Moscow Radio Symphony/ Boris Khaikin/ Columbia Symphony Orchestra/ CBS Symphony/Igor Stravinsky – Praga Digitals

Russian Symphonies = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Symphony No. 1; STRAVINSKY: Symphony Op. 1, Scherzo Fantastique  – Moscow Radio Symphony/ Boris Khaikin/ Columbia Symphony Orchestra/ CBS Symphony – Praga Digitals PRD 250 341, 79:55 (9/22/17) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Two Russian symphonies in a strong Romantic tradition complement each other on this sonically alert disc.

The name of Russian conductor Boris Khaikin (1904-1978) appears occasionally on compact discs, usually in regard to his extremely active operatic career.  His present performance of the equally infrequent Symphony No. 1 (1865) of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (rec. 26 March 1966)  may well incite further issues of his work, considering the splendid, clear resonance and visceral excitement of this reading. Although Anton Rubinstein had composed an “Ocean Symphony” around 1853, several commentators—especially Cesar Cui—dubbed Rimsky-Korsakov’s work “The first Russian symphony” because of its strong reliance of Russian folk tunes, conceived under the guidance of Mily Balakirev. The composer acknowledged the influence of the German school, Robert Schumann in particular, as an especial model. The music of Glinka and Balakirev proves no less active in the score, as well as the color results of the composer’s having studied the Berlioz treatise on orchestration.

The rather somber opening movement Largo assai – Allegro casts some of Schumann’s dark tones about, especially in d minor from the Symphony No. 4 and the Overture to Manfred. Still, Khaikin and his ensemble impart a fervent rush of energy into its figures, and the music possesses a dashing charm of its own. The Andante tranquillo utilizes a Russian folk tune, “On the Tatar Captivity,” set in variation form on principles Glinka used in Kamarinskaya.  The Scherzo e Trio: Vivace asserts vibrant momentum and color not far from the taste of Borodin. The Moscow strings and winds sound especially alert, biting and rich, at once. The pizzicato figures remind us how effectively the Russians employ the color to advance their martial energies. The last movement, Allegro assai, seeks contrapuntal masses and exotic colors, much in the spirit of Borodin. The main theme has been ripe for a fugue from the outset. The brass and battery sections of the Moscow Radio cut loose, and, along with the energized strings, have the roof shaking. The rhythm has much in common with Glinka’s famous Jota aragonesa, which only adds some Iberian spice to an already colorful score.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in E-flat, Op. 1 (1905-07) comes directly from the “instruction” of
Rimsky-Korsakov, and its genial, conservative cast reveals little to nothing of the revolutionary, iconoclastic temper of the composer of ten years later who conceived Le Sacre du Printemps. The composer leads a CBS ensemble (rec. 2 May 1965) consisting mainly of Los Angeles Philharmonic members who produce a solid, responsive orchestral sound. The development of the first movement Allegro moderato owes much to Glazunov, in terms of harmonic motion, while the melodic content bears the stamp of Tchaikovsky in his more aggressive stance. The second movement Scherzo—rather Mendelssohnian in its own way—can lay claim to the most originality, and its native energy likely gave Stravinsky the confidence and incentive for his next orchestral opus, the Scherzo fantastique of 1908, here in a recording the composer made in Toronto, 1 December 1962.  This work leans heavily on the ensemble from the woodwinds, and commentators claim that Stravinsky, if he had a “program” as such, looked to Maurice Maeterlinck’s La Vie des abeilles.  While an advance harmonically over the Symphony, the Scherzo betrays a sense of academicism that Stravinsky will soon molt from his creative process.

—Gary Lemco

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