Evgeny Svetlanov

The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music: Mikhail Glinka

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Svetlanov is an interesting Russian label; run by Nina Nikolaeva-Svetlanova, it draws upon the personal recording archive of conductor Evgeny Svetlanov. The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music: Mikhail Glinka is a three-disc set featuring recordings of Glinka's music as performed by Svetlanov and the Russian State Academy Symphony ranging from 1957 to 1990. Glinka's worklist is fairly large and it is hard to know, based on available resources, what it contains in a global sense. This set contains some genuine rarities; two overtures Glinka composed in the 1820s, the Memory of Friendship, Glinka's orchestral arrangement of a chamber piece by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Vissarion Shebalin's realization of Glinka's unfinished Symphony on Two Russian Themes, and other rarities. These appear along with more familiar fare such as Jota Aragonesa, Kamarinskaya, and a selection of bleeding orchestral chunks from Glinka's operas. For the hardcore Glinka listener, the rarities will be the draw, but it should be said that the set does contain a fair number of genuinely great performances. Svetlanov certainly knows his way around Glinka, and that's an impression even jaded listeners will gather before the first disc is done playing.

The recordings, however, are a different matter; presumably drawn from live concerts dating from a period of more than 30 years and involving a wide range of recording situations. Naturally, there is no way such a collection is going to be of uniform sound quality, and it isn't. Overall it's certainly acceptable; some recordings are very good, some others are dim and rather tape hissy. Unfortunately falling into that latter category is one of the rarities, a dynamite reading of Glinka's seldom-performed setting of Lermontov, Prayer for voice, chorus, and orchestra. The booklet, too, is problematical. It would have been nice to know who the fine lyric tenor is who sang on the recording of Prayer, but such level of detail is not included. Who ever copyedited the booklet also seems to have inadvertently snipped out the blurb for Kamarinskaya. However, the level of performance is consistently very high, and much of this material is seldom heard outside of Russia, and it does his reputation well. The Memory of Friendship, for example, easily transmits the rite of passage from classical style to romantic orchestral scoring, a transition Glinka surely made given the time period he lived in and the long-lasting attachment his fellow Russians had to classical style itself.

So the Svetlanov set The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music: Mikhail Glinka is both useful in the access it provides to Glinka's music and the high quality of Svetlanov's leadership; Svetlanov's booklet design needs to catch up and perhaps a better sonic match of sources would be more ideal. But overall, this is rewarding, and Glinka's followers will enjoy it very much.

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