Mussorgsky | Pictures at an Exhibition
Borodin | Symphony No. 2, Polovtsian Dances
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Simon Rattle conductor

EMI CLASSICS • www.emiclassics.com

Two of The Five

Here is a solid record of the 19th century Russian masters Alexander Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky, two composers from the nationalist circle of musicians well known as The Russian Five. The Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Simon Rattle, display a comprehensive knowledge of the musical stylistics of this tradition and enhance their performance with great dynamism to the listener’s delight. Presented are some of Russia’s most well-known compositions, and their depictions here reveal many of its distinctive features: its principal interests in folk songs, its aesthetic for colourful variations of themes, its naturally flowing non-Western progressions and loose formal structures.

It is unfortunate that the liner notes leave out details about the approach they take, the reason behind their selections and also the history of the orchestra and conductor. What is found is heard in the music. In Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition a lot of time is spent in projecting the themes, in dynamically animating transitional links between textures and in providing contrasting timbral effects with repetitive elements. Folk songs and dances of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (from his opera Prince Igor) are performed with a natural fluidity and momentum, with drawn-out cadences that slow down our perception of time and prolong our anticipation for a conclusion to this monumental work.

It is not my intention to say this is a flawless recording, a lot of liberty is in fact taken with tempo and there is no doubt an interesting play with orchestral textures; however the natural force of the album makes it very effective for the intellect and the heart. The orchestra finds a fine balance between methodology and expressivity, and makes this repertoire attractive musically and visually. It takes listeners on a journey across artistic borders and sonic landscapes, evoking the exoticism of the Russian style.

by Jessica Lombardi March 2009

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Jessica Lombardi
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