Boston Pops Orchestra / Arthur Fiedler

Pops Caviar

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While by no means bad performances, the performances on Pops Caviar -- Russian Orchestral Fireworks are by no means good performances, either. They have, like Nietzsche's übermensch, transcended concepts like good and bad because they are, from conception to execution, pops performances, specifically, Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler performances. For listeners who don't immediately recall the series of pops recordings Fiedler made for RCA in the '50s and '60s with the Boston Symphony Orchestra re-named the Boston Pops Orchestra, the difference between the BSO and the BPO is not one of quality -- good, bad, or mediocre -- but of brow -- high, middle, or low. As the BPO demonstrates here in works by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Khachaturian, this difference means the difference between clean, full strings and sweet, lush strings; between warmly characterful winds and colorfully blended winds; between clear, strong brass and big, bold brass; and, especially, between suave, polished percussion and gargantuan, bludgeoning percussion. In other words, the quality of the playing is still first-rate, but the quality is aimed at what used to be called a middle-brow audience, an audience that knew what it liked and what it liked was loud, colorful, and a bit sexy. Fiedler is a more than capable conductor who leads performances notable more for their excitement than for their subtly: listen to the brilliant balances in Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture or the driven tempos in Borodin's Polovetsian Dances. These are the performances to get if you're looking for excitement and thrills, but if you're looking for performances with as much excitement but more subtlety, try Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra's recordings on Philips. Gergiev believes in the quality of Borodin's gloriously lyrical melodies and Rimsky-Korsakov's incandescent colors, and his recordings are as thrilling as performances as they are compelling as interpretations. RCA's remastering of the original living stereo sound reproduces the flash of the LPs, but lacks some of the depth.

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