Steve Haller greeted the first volume in this series devoted to the Russian Mighty Five (American Record Guide, November/December 1993) unenthusiastically, commenting that "the gentle reader would be better off with Svetlanov's earlier Melodiya releases." The Russian State Symphony, he added, "often sounds undernourished, especially the string section…" Volume Two offers more of the same. In the Symphony, Svetlanov's ponderous tempos (he requires nearly six minutes more than Tjeknavorian) and heavy-handed approach saps nearly all the energy and color from Borodin's glorious and usually invigorating score. Concerning Svetlanov's Melodiya recording of Symphony 2, Haller wrote (in January/February 1992), "At 10:31 the andante is only a few seconds off from Gergiev, yet without the mesmerizing character of that performance…" Svetlanov actually takes a few seconds less this time around, but he's still clearly inferior to Gergiev (or Järvi or Tjeknavorian, for that matter). Indeed, the choice between the competing versions of this Symphony is a very difficult one; my ideal recording would be a composite of movements from Järvi (I & III), Gergiev (IV), and the newly-issued Kondrashin (Philips), which boasts the most seductive version of II that I've yet encountered. Meanwhile, Tjeknavorian's lively reading – at RCA's dirt-cheap Silver Seal price – is a real bargain.
Svetlanov turns in an achingly-lovely, impassioned, and Tchaikovskian reading of the Petite Suite's Reverie, perfectly capturing the music's dream-like essence. Considerably more relaxed than Järvi (4:34 vs. 2:54), Svetlanov brings out the grandeur and beauty of this movement. If only the rest of the disc had been on this exalted level! Tempos in the remainder of the Suite are once again very deliberate, while the orchestral playing continues to be crude and unrefined. Outside of the aforementioned Reverie, Järvi is vastly more tender, comforting, and rewarding in this charming work.
Copyright © 1996, Thomas Godell