The various releases of official folklore that were released in the West during the Communist era were often the only Russian music Westerners knew. What's more surprising is that now, under private enterprise, it's still the balalaika orchestras and the Red Army choruses that come to mind when Russian music is mentioned; the country's pop scene, which was quite varied even before the fall of Communism (do a search for "Russian hair metal" sometime), rarely finds an export market, but all the folk classics are back for another round, now with up-to-date production values. The Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army dates to 1929, and the program here, a mix of patriotic songs, marches, folk songs and operatic selections with a few orchestral chestnuts, wouldn't have been out of place at that time. The chorus is all-male, although there are female soloists. The good news is that the level of musical accomplishment is very high, in many cases at least competitive and perhaps stronger than comparable U.S. military ensembles. The full-orchestra accompaniment would be at home in any symphonic concert hall, and the soloists in "La donna è mobile" and the other operatic favorites are at least competent; the bass in the traditional piece The Prayer for Pardon (track 13) is a force of nature. The main attraction, as ever, is the choral group, with its characteristically thick Russian sound unmarred by distortion or tonal imprecision. The downsides revolve around the disc's status as a budget release; there are no song texts, almost no historical information, and no evidence of the Dance half of the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army despite some attractive photos in the booklet. Still, especially for Russian speakers, a good choice to update a collection of old Red Army Chorus recordings.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Il Trovatore, opera|