Russian Nights/Kunzel

March 22, 2007

 

Russian Nights is the 83rd recording done by Kunzel and the Pops with their very first and this both having the common thread of being Russian. The first recording, a digital lp, was a rousing version of the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky which I remember very well. Surprise wasn’t the word to describe how I felt when the needle jumped out of the groove as the canon exploded. My turntable was replaced within a few days (still have it today) and I was able to listen to the wonderful dynamic range of one of the very first digital recordings. Today Direct Stream Digital is a state of the art recording techinique with dynamic range greater than 120dB and frequency response from 0Hz to over 100kHz. These figures are far beyond the capabilities of the equipment you might listen to this recording on.

The 15 selections that are offered on this CD are well known standards in the Russian repertoire of short showcase pieces. Beginning with Glinka’s Russian and Ludmilla Overture from (1842) and including Khachaturian’s Love Theme from Spartacus from (1955), the works span over 100 years. Soundtrack collectors, who don’t already have it, will love the Spartacus theme. From his 1955 ballet the theme is presented to us romantically on the oboe before the yearning strains of the string section take over. It is quite a different interpretation of what North came up with for the film a few years later. Russian and Ludmilla by Glinka, father of Russian music, is the standard which many Russian composers studied. It is vibrant and rousing steeped with the Russian tradition. Also included is the often played Capriccio Espagnol, from Rimsky-Korsakov, an orchestral masterpiece of arranging. Liadov, a starter but never one to finish much, gives us Enchanted Lake and Music Box. The lake piece was to be a part of an opera Kikomora, which he started and never finished. The Music Box piece was one he wrote for piano for his son and later it has been arranged for orchestra. “Strangers In Paradise”, from Borodin’s Prince Igor has always been a favorite as well as the quirky theme from Prokofiev’s The Love For Three Oranges. The ever popular Caucasian Sketches of Ippolitov-Ivanov and a selection from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov along with two selections of Tchaikovsky from his ballets Nutcracker Suite and Swan Lake complete the 67 minute CD.

Compilation CD’s can be a difficult choice for the buyer, especially if you have already started a collection of Russian classical music. The selections and performances are excellent, great thematic material, but there is nothing groundbreaking on this CD except for maybe the Khachaturian selection. All of the other selections are available on any number of CD’s in a infinite number of combinations. However, if you are new to some or most of this material the CD provides an excellent introduction to the fascinating world of Russian classical music. It is enough to perk your ears, wet your appetite, and you’ll want to explore more material. Like golden age film music, it is so rich in melody and wonderful orchestral arrangements one could picture all of the composers writing for pictures other than just Prokofiev and Khachaturian who had limited exposure to the medium. Rimsky-Korsakov would have been a master and winner of many Oscars had he ever been in a position to do it. Enchanted Lake, could have been taken straight out of fantasy adventure film. Woody Allen has already figured out how effective Tchaikovsky is, using a lot of his music in his last film Scoop. Recommended.

Golden Score Rating ***

Telarc CD-80657

Recording Producer Robert Woods

Recording Engineer Jack Renner

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