While this two-disc set certainly isn't for the casual classical collector, it will be welcomed by any truly rabid Russophile. With not only Rachmaninov's well-known Isle of the Dead, but also his earlier Prince Rostislav, Capriccio on Gypsy Themes, and his earliest Scherzo for orchestra, these discs aren't for everyone, but the dedicated Rachmaninov fan will have to hear it. Without even Islamey, Balakirev isn't represented by his one popular work, but with his exciting In Bohemia, his enthralling Tamara, and his mighty Russia, the faithful Balakirev will have to hear it. Glazunov's once well-known Stenka Razin, with its Song of the Vulga Boatmen paraphrase, along with his rarely recorded Ballade in F major will make Glazunov fans happy. Lyapunov's Zelazowa Wola, a virtually unknown work by an almost unrecorded Russian composer, will make this set mandatory for the truly rabid Russophile.
The truly rabid Russophile will already know what to expect from the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Evgeny Svetlanov. At its best, it was technically raw but tonally sumptuous, muscularly powerful but instrumentally tender. At its worst, it was mawkish and overbearing with sloppy strings, pinched woodwinds, and wayward brass. The truly rabid Russophile knows what to expect but tolerates it because Svetlanov and the USSR recorded so much that one can no more imagine Russian orchestral music without them than one can imagine German art songs without Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. And the truly rabid Russophile knows what to expect from Melodiya recordings: dim, gray, and dull sound that will occasionally blow the VU meter.