Fuat Mansurov

Rubenstein: Symphony No. 2 "Ocean"; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3

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Anton Rubinstein's Symphony No. 2, "The Ocean," which is performed here in its original four-movement version (it was later revised to seven movements), sounds much more like a second-tier German symphony than it does an authentically Russian work. Given that it was composed in 1852, at a time before Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, or any of the other better-remembered Russian symphonists tried their hand at the form, its slightly derivative nature is understandable, but Rubinstein's emphasis of orchestral color over structural cogency, and melodic content over harmonic form, further undermine the work's claims to longevity.

"The Ocean" has received few recordings, but they have all been much better performed and recorded than this one. Mansurov's competent but light conducting makes the work sound less like a full-fledged symphony than a frothy ballet divertissement, and the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony's leaden playing makes its contribution sound like a chore. Neither Igor Golovschin and the State Symphony Orchestra's 1994 recording of "The Ocean" in its four-movement form, nor Stephen Gunzenhauser and the Slovak Philharmonic's 1986 recording of the work in its seven movement revision, were especially inspired, but both are still preferable to this offering, especially because they boast superior sound quality to this painfully cramped Soviet-era stereo recording.

Alexander Mndoyants' performance of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto (with the same conductor and orchestra) fills out the program. Well enough played but distinctly lacking in charisma, excitement, or interpretive profile, it's hard to comprehend why Mndoyants' performance was reissued. Mansurov proves himself an able accompanist and the Soviet orchestra proves itself a capable ensemble, but they have little to no rapport with the soloist. Unlike "The Ocean," there have been dozens if not hundreds of recordings of Prokofiev's Third Concerto and the vast majority are more interesting.

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