Evgeny Svetlanov / USSR Symphony Orchestra

Glinka: Overtures & Dances

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As a collection of the orchestral music of Mikhail Glinka, this disc has four things going against it: the playing, the conducting, the sound, and the selections. Except for the USSR Symphony Orchestra, the Bolshoi Orchestra was the worst major orchestra in the Soviet Union, and, on this disc, both orchestras perform with the combination of slack strings, weak winds, blunt brass, and feeble ensemble that characterized Soviet orchestras at their worst. Except for a handful of provincial nonentities, Evgeny Svetlanov was the crudest conductor in the Soviet Union, and, in all the pieces here, he conducts with the combination of banality, bombast, and vulgarity that typified him at his worst. Without exception, the Soviet Union gave its orchestras the worst sound in the world and, in these recordings from 1963, 1967, 1977, and 1984, it gave the Bolshoi and the USSR an acoustic that combines the vast empty spaces of Kazakhstan with the freezing cold of Siberia and the merciless harshness of Mother Russia. And, although this disc does combine many of Glinka's best and most characteristic works, it inexplicably leaves out Kamarinskaya, his best, most characteristic, and most influential work.

For a fine contemporary recording of Glinka's orchestral music including Kamarinskaya, try Vassily Sinaisky with the BBC Symphony. Sinaisky may not be the best Russian conductor of all time and the BBC Symphony may not be the best English orchestra of all time, but they're both a darn right better than Svetlanov with either the USSR or Bolshoi orchestras.

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