INKPOT CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: The World of Borodin (Decca)
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
THE WORLD OF BORODIN Prince Igor Overture & Polovtsian Dances
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti
Galitzky’s aria (from Prince Igor)
Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass)
London Symphony Orchestra, Edward Downes
Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D
Scherzo in A flat major
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
In the Steppes of Central Asia
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ernest Ansermet
For the shores of your far-off native land
Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass), Zlatina Ghiaurov (piano)
Symphony No. 2 in B minor
London Symphony Orchestra, Jean Martinon
DECCA (The World of Series) 444 389-2
by Isaak Koh
Alexander Borodin (right) was a man of multiple talents. Born in St. Petersburg, Borodin showed an early interest in music and chemistry. Graduating in medicine, he chose chemistry as his profession and composed only in his spare time. However, it was his meeting with Mily Balakirev in 1862 that spurred him to take composing seriously. From then on, Borodin juggled the twin commitments of work and music successfully, producing two symphonies, two string quartets, and an opera, Prince Igor.
He was also one of the “Mighty Five” Russian nationalist composers, the others being Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui and Balakirev (the leader). Their aim was to write authentic Russian music, haevily steeped in Russian tradition rather than influenced by Italian opera. Borodin was not a prolific composer, but the bold originality of his slender offering is a strong claim to his position as one of the most brilliant and nationalistic composers of the nineteenth century.
Decca’s “The World of …” series have been of variable quality, but for this issue, the selection is exactly on the mark. This CD presents all the major works of Borodin and provides a wonderful snapshot of his music. The three excerpts from Prince Igor are dramatically played, full of Russian vigour and energy. Sir Georg Solti injects power and grandeur into the London Symphony Orchestra, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more lyrical Polovtsian Dances. Its famous melody was lifted to become the tune of “Stranger in Paradise”, a song which entered the British singles chart five times in 1955 (all done by different artists!).
Borodin’s meagre chamber music output is represented here by the Nocturne from the Second String Quartet, ravishingly played by the Borodin Quartet. The song For the shores of your far-off native land is yearningly performed by the Ghiaurovs, while Ashkenazy plays stylishly in the Scherzo. The collection comes to a thundering conclusion with the rousing Second Symphony, a work to place alongside those of Peter Tchaikovsky.
This well-filled disc is great value for money, and will surely be of interest to anyone who enjoys full-blooded, powerfully nationalistic, late Romantic Russian music. There is no other compilation that offers such a satisfying overview of Borodin’s musical career, so get it!
Much of the contents of this disc has been further reissued in a Double Decca pair of CDs called “The Essential Borodin” (455 632-2), including all three symphonies and the complete String Quartet No.2.
This disc may be purchased (or ordered from) Sing Discs (Raffles City), HMV (The Heeren) or Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City).
Isaak Koh wishes he was awe-inspiring as Captain Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. Make it so!