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ClassicsOnline Home » BORODIN, A.P.: Symphonies Nos. 1-3 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)
Borodin’s symphonies exude lyricism and panache. The First took five years to complete but is a work of seamless melodic invention owing something to Mendelssohn, whose influence infuses it with delicious lightness. The Second Symphony is a more explicitly Russian work, pulsing with festive and march-like elements, high-spirited and boldly nationalistic. The Third was left incomplete, and was reconstructed and orchestrated by Glazunov with considerable facility and imagination. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony have already demonstrated their prowess in music by another of the “Mighty Five”, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade (8.572693), acclaimed as “world class…nothing short of spectacular” (MusicWeb International).
Borodin the American
Beethoven is never far around the corner when you listen to Borodin, and the Seattle Symphony makes you listen up. The pace is fast, almost comically so at times; the horns are clear and precise and infuse the music with a certain pride and joy of life that left Borodin curiously American and youthful in this reviewer's mind.
The steppes of Central Asia seem to give way to the Great Plains here, underlining the universality of music and certainly undermining Borodin's undeservedly narrow classification as a "national(istic)" Russian composer.
Gerard Schwarz has done the right thing by pulling him back into the mainstream repertoire with a light touch and connecting him with his origins firmly in the tradition of European music.more....
Top of the list in value and performance
There have been several good Borodin symphony cycles. I've been looking for the best, and I think I've found it. My previous favorite was Loris Tjeknavorian's set on RCA, however the sound is a bit edgy and compressed, which was common in RCA recordings of the 70s.
Neeme Jarvi's DG set is another one to outdo, but more on the strength of its comprehensiveness than the performances, which are wonderfully played but not nearly as exciting as the present recording by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle players.
On pretty much all counts, this set is a winner: rousing, beautifully nuanced performances with just the right tempi throughout; gorgeous sound and excellent value. It's Naxos, so you know the price is reasonable, but also all of the symphonies are featured on a single disc. You don't get some of Borodin's shorter pieces like you do on Jarvi's set, but I suspect Schwarz may record those later. I hope. The Seattle orchestra produces a very Russian sound, and no other recording I know of offers such good audio quality. It's a keeper.more....
PERFORMANCES TO TRUST
Borodin always looked upon his activities as a composer as very much secondary to his work as a chemist and physician, in which fields he made some notable contributions to science. These scientific activities also involved much travel in Europe, where he was doubtless able to immerse himself in local musical life.
Borodin, a member of the group of Russian musicians known as 'The Five' proved to be as much of an innovator in his music as he was in his scientific disciplines. His first symphony, despite taking four years to complete, remains highly cohesive showing no signs of this extended period of composition. Rather to the disapproval of the other four of his Russian colleagues, Borodin’s music, especially his first symphony, was influenced as much by European composers as by Russian. His second symphony is much more ‘Russian’. The combination of Borodin and Glazunov in the incomplete third leaves one wondering just how much each has contributed to the whole. For those who believe they do not know the music of Borodin should be reminded that Kismet was based on Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. The music for the song “Stranger in Paradise” is also Borodin’s. His symphonies are equally tuneful and enjoyable.
Gerard Schwarz was conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra for over a quarter of a century bringing the ensemble to unprecedented heights. Attention has been drawn to other recent critically acclaimed recordings of Russian music by the orchestra, notable Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherazade. It is certain that this disc maintains their consistent excellence of playing and interpretation. The recording is also of a very high standard. And at this or any other price this discs becomes a premier recommendation for these symphonies.more....
Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin (1833–1887)
Symphonies Nos. 1–3
Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin was born in 1833, the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince, assuming, according to custom, the surname and patronymic of one of his father’s serfs. His mother later married a retired army doctor and he was brought up at home in cultured and privileged surroundings. Here he was able to develop his early interests in music, in the course of a general education that won him entry in 1850 to the Medico-Surgical Academy in St Petersburg. His public career was as a scientist, from 1864 as a professor of chemistry at the Medico-Surgical Academy, and involved him in teaching and in research. In common with a number of contemporaries, he was only able to indulge his interest in music in his spare time, a fact that delayed his progress and left, at his death in 1887, a number of incompleted projects, to be assembled and finished by his friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who had resigned his commission in the navy to devote himself entirely to music, and by Rimsky-Korsakov’s pupil Alexander Glazunov.
The nineteenth century saw the development of nationalism throughout Europe. In Russia there was an intellectual reaction to the westernizing tendencies initiated by Peter the Great a century before, and in all the arts a move towards the creation of something specifically Russian. In music opinions were divided between a group of nationalist composers, the so-called Mighty Five, led by Mily Balakirev, who had enjoyed a measure of professional training, and including, in addition to Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, the expert on military fortification César Cui and the ex-army officer turned civil servant Modest Mussorgsky. These nationalist composers gloried in their own relative amateurism, opposing strongly the establishment of professional conservatories in St Petersburg and Moscow by the Rubinstein brothers, whom they regarded as representative of “German” music. The succeeding generation was able to provide a synthesis between these two rival movements, joining the professional training of the conservatories to Russian sources of inspiration.
Borodin attempted three symphonies, the last of which he never finished. The first, in E flat, took him five years to complete, occupying his intermittent attention from 1862 until 1867. It was given a poor trial performance under Balakirev in March 1868, but was more successful when it was played in the first Russian Music Society concert of 1869. Borodin had met Balakirev first in 1862 and fallen under his influence, of which the First Symphony was a more or less immediate result. The symphony was his first sustained exercise in composition and was subjected to the often contradictory criticism of his new mentor at every step.
The E flat Symphony opens with a slow introduction that contains the germ of the Allegro first subject. An E flat major second movement scherzo shows a debt to Mendelssohn, a favourite with Borodin, while the B major trio has about it more the exotic world of Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor. The D major slow movement is dominated by a melody originally intended for the cor anglais, until the intervention of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, who recommended the use of the cello in its place. The symphony ends with an energetic finale which, in spite of its characteristic second subject, owes much to German tradition and was described by Gerald Abraham as second-hand Schumann, a judgment as harsh as the same writer’s view of the scherzo as second-hand Berlioz, deficiencies for which he regarded the original first movement as ample compensation.
The Second Symphony was started in 1869 and completed seven years later, the period of its composition coinciding very largely with Borodin’s intermittent attention to work on Prince Igor. The music is thoroughly Russian in mood and the composer himself suggested in conversation with Stasov, the polymath mentor of the group of the Mighty Five, that the first movement represented some gathering of Russian warriors, the slow movement a Bajan and the last a crowd in festive mood. The opening movement is dominated by its forceful and ominous first theme. The Scherzo, slightly altered in its opening on the suggestion of Balakirev, who was always ready with advice, however inconsistent, shifts a semi-tone higher; the repeated note C on the horns serves as the introduction of the new key of F major, much as the G flat chord that opens the Andante, with its moving horn solo, shifts the tonality to D flat, changing to C sharp minor at the start of the colourful B major finale. The symphony, in fact, is remarkable in its technical novelty, within the traditional symphonic framework, and constitutes an orchestral counterpart of Prince Igor, Polovtsian Dances notwithstanding.
The Third Symphony, of which only two movements exist, uses as a second movement a scherzo in a characteristically uneven rhythm scored originally for string quartet, written in 1882, and orchestrated, as Borodin had intended. The first movement, reconstructed by Glazunov from the composer’s sketches and from his own phenomenal memory, had actually originally been intended as a string quartet, a fact that goes some way to explaining its relatively spare texture and gentle mood. For the Trio Glazunov took music that the composer had written for the first act of Prince Igor but had later rejected.
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BORODIN, A.P.: Symphonies Nos. 1-3 (Seattle Sympho...