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CD Review

The Enchanted Kingdom

Russian Orchestral Works

  • Antol Liadov:
  • Baba Yaga, Op. 56
  • The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62
  • Kikimora, Op. 63
  • Nikolai Tcherepnin:
  • The Distant Princess
  • The Enchanted Kingdom
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff: The Golden Cockerel (suite)
Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
Deutsche Grammophon 447084-2 77m
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Also available as part of Newton 8802037: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - JPC

Color is the name of the game here. These Russian bon-bons are very well played and quite rare. Mikhail Pletnev isn't always the world's greatest conductor, but he deserves tremendous credit for such a varied program. Although this disc is also available on Newton Classics along with a second disc of Russian ear candy, I'm reviewing the single-disc ArkivCD (CD-ROM). I think you'll find it to be a worthwhile experience.

Finding a program with both Liadov and Tcherepnin isn't easy, and many performances are ultimately less than satisfying. Happily, both the orchestral contributions and digital sound are both excellent, with a pleasingly wide dynamic range in both playing and audio. Liadov isn't so much a forgotten master as he is a curio, and the same could be said for Tcherepnin, who probably is known best as Rimsky's student, even within the field of composition. Still, these works qualify as a kind of "Rimsky-lite"; colorfully orchestrated and vivid in detail, they aim to tell a story using the orchestra. While Liadov's Baba Yaga is less interesting than Mussorgsky's, The Enchanted Lake is a lovely little piece. Kikimora is new to me, and comes off as an attractive, if rather light, tone poem.

Tcherepnin clearly took after his teacher in exploring the various shades of orchestral playing, and his solo writing for various instruments is moving and well-crafted. The Distant Princess is wistful and delicate, sounding somewhat like a film theme in the process. If he lacks anything, it is his great teachers' ear and sense of timing; both this and The Enchanted Kingdom seem to linger just a touch too long. But fans of late-Romantic Russian music will be thrilled all the same. The latter work is a little more successful, using percussion and varied tonal colors to create a real sense of whimsical fantasy.

The Rimsky proper is of course better known, but also goes well. Brass playing is bright but never piercing, while the winds strike me as very pleasing. I find only the string playing to be a tad steely and rather bland. That's never really been a strong asset of this ensemble, relying as it does on sheer brilliance of playing over subtleties. Still, as a way of tying all three composers together it makes great programming, and the whole disc is a delight.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman