Great Russian Symphonies

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The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between operas or concertos—had assumed the structure of three contrasting movements, and it is this form that is often considered as the direct forerunner of the orchestral symphony. With the rise of established professional orchestras, the symphony assumed a more prominent place in concert life between 1790 and 1820 until it eventually came to be regarded by many as the yardstick by which one would measure a composer’s achievement.

The symphony came late to Russia. The first attempts at a Russian Nationalist symphony were made in the late nineteenth-century by Balakirev and his acolytes, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as by Tchaikovsky, whose symphonies (despite his European leanings) have a distinctly Russian flavour. In their wake followed numerous composers, from Glazunov to Myaskovsky, similarly instilling their music with the melodies of their homeland. In the years that followed Russian politics had an unmistakable impact on the Russian symphonists, as Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (among others) went into exile whilst composers such as Shostakovich vented their political frustrations through the medium of music—his Leningrad Symphony being a prime example.

R E V I E W:

The most important works here also tend to get the best performances. So let’s proceed in order of overall quality. Best are Shostakovich’s Fifth with Petrenko, Borodin’s Second and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Schwarz, Kuchar’s Prokofiev First and Fifth, and Kalinnikov’s First, and Antoni Wit in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth and Sixth. All the rest are fair to good. These include Glazunov’s Sixth and Rachmaninov’s Second (and The Rock) with Anissimov, Shostakovich’s Seventh and Miaskovsky’s 25th (Yablonsky), Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and assorted short works (1812 Overture, Romeo and Juliet) with Adrian Leaper, and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Third Symphony with Golovschin. Topping it all off is a pretty respectable Antar Symphony conducted by André Anichanov. Yes, you can do better in most of this music, but this 10-disc set is well-chosen and an easy way to get a big pile of popular and unfairly neglected Russian symphonies, so who’s complaining?

-- David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8501059

  • UPC: 730099105941

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Alexander Borodin, Alexander Glazunov, Alexander Scriabin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Myaskovsky, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Vasily Kalinnikov

  • Conductor: Adrian Leaper, Alexander Anissimov, André Anichanov, Antoni Wit, Dmitry Yablonsky, Gerard Schwarz, Igor Golovchin, Theodore Kuchar, Vasily Petrenko

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Katowice Polish Radio/TV Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Polish Radio/TV Symphony Orchestra