Borodin: Prince Igor, excerpts (CD review)

Also, In the Steppes of Central Asia; Symphony No. 2. Ole Schmidt, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Royal Philharmonic Masterworks/Sheridan Square/Allegro RPM 28180.

If you don't already own the basic Borodin works on this disc, and if you don't wish to invest in an older, classic recording from conductors like Beecham, Solti, Martinon, or Ashkenazy, this relatively new digital production from Ole Schmidt and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra should fill the bill nicely. It includes three of the composer's most-popular works--excerpts from Prince Igor, In the Steppes of Central Asia, and the Symphony No. 2--in first-rate sound.

Aleksandr Borodin (1833-1887) never finished his opera Prince Igor, and his friends Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov completed it for him after his death. Although opera companies don't perform the complete opera very much anymore, most orchestras do play certain excerpts from it often, like the three segments presented here. Maestro Schmidt offers up the Overture in a smooth and comfortable interpretation rather than a particularly passionate or stimulating one. Still, it makes a good curtain-raiser. Then come the Polovtsian Dances, here in a purely orchestral arrangement rather than with chorus. Oddly, Schmidt turns up the heat a notch more than he did in the Overture. Finally, we get the Polovtsian March, which Schmidt handles in an appropriately jubilant spirit, even if it's a little foursquare in its execution.

In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880) is a brief, atmospheric tone poem. The composer described it as depicting a caravan in the desert, escorted by Russian soldiers. It is Schmidt's most-successful realization in the program, delicately evocative yet grandly eloquent.

The album concludes with the Symphony No. 2 in B-minor (1877), which Borodin wrote while also working on Prince Igor, so you'll find reflections of both works in each other. It's not a long symphony, but it is exotic and colorful, starting with a large-scale Beethovian flourish and moving quickly into Rimsky-Korsakov territory with its main theme. After that, we get the second-movement Scherzo, which Schmidt plays a bit more slowly than, say, Martinon, and not drumming up as much excitement or lyricism as I have heard before in the music. The conductor is best in the Andante, which sounds quite lovely in its dark, almost forbidding way. Closing things out, there's the Finale-Allegro, which both Schmidt and the sound engineers handle with great joy and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, there seems to me a certain reticence on Schmidt's part to engage the music fully. Perhaps it was his age at the time he conducted it; perhaps not. In any case, his performance is well worth hearing.

The sound, copyrighted in 2007 by Royal Philharmonic Masterworks and Sheridan Square Entertainment and released in 2011 by Allegro Corporation, is big and warm, with a wide dynamic range and reasonably good impact. The back cover claims that RPM made it as a "20 bit digital recording, edited and mastered via 32 bit digital sound processing," rendering the results in high definition. Hype aside, the sonics do sound quite natural, if a tad short on ultimate transparency. However, there is a fine sense of left-to-right imaging, orchestral depth, and sparkle at the high end, making the music all the more fun to listen to.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa