For most listeners, Evgeny Svetlanov is best known as the late twentieth century Russian conductor who recorded virtually every piece of Russian nationalist orchestral music ever composed from Glinka through Rachmaninov. But as this four-disc set gives testimony, Svetlanov was himself a composer of Russian nationalist orchestral music. Whether the work in question is his Symphony in B minor or his Piano Concerto in C minor or one of his many symphonic poems, fantasies, or rhapsodies for orchestra, Svetlanov never sounds like a single, identifiable individual, but rather like a committee whose primary goal was to sound as much like other Russian nationalist composers as possible.
Put on any movement of any piece at random and play "name the influence." Is that Borodin in the lyrical themes and plush orchestration of the symphony's Largo, Tchaikovsky in the strenuous themes and bombast orchestration of the symphonic poem Daugava, Glazunov in the epic themes and glittering orchestra of the Siberian Fantasy, Glinka in the Pictures of Spain's colors and rhythms, Rachmaninov in the Piano Concerto's bravura keyboard writing, or Shostakovich in The Red Guelder-rose's acerbic wind writing? Whether conducting 11 of the 12 works here or soloing in the Piano Concerto while Maxim Shostakovich wields the baton, Svetlanov turns in performances of total insight, tremendous strength, and absolute dedication. Whether the performances or the pieces are convincing depends on the listener. Recorded between 1954 and 1978, the sound here is clean enough for government work -- if the government is that of the former USSR.