"A good friend of mine allowed me to borrow and listen to this CD. Borodin is one of my absolute favorite Russian composers, so I try to listen to as many different recordings of his symphonies as possible.To be perfectly honest, this CD holds up fairly well to the competition. Stephen Gunzenhauser and his Czech orchestra give very admirable, heartfelt performances of these great works. They play well in tune, are rhythmically coordinated, and are balanced well with one another. Gunzenhauser and the Slovak orchestra give very good performances of all three symphonies. However, due to some stiff competition, there are better recordings of these works with greater sonic output, better technical facility, and a greater sense of romanticism, contrast, and soul. Examples of this include the great budget recording of the Second Symphony by Ole Schmidt, Evgeny Svetlanov's recordings of these works, and (especially) the Neeme Jarvi box set of the Borodin symphonies, "In the Steppes of Central Asia," the "Petite Suite," and the famous Romance from Borodin's Second String Quartet.This said, you cannot beat these performances of the three Borodin Symphonies for this price. There is no comparison in the budget bracket. Plus, you get all the symphonies on only one CD. If you just want an introduction to the Borodin symphonies or want to supplement your existing collection, I recommend this CD without reservations. However, if you want the best performances available for quite a bit more money (and searching!), I recommend the Jarvi set."
"As with Tchaikovsky?s ?Manfred? symphony as performed by the same orchestra, I am forced to assume that one of the ?major? labels could probably have made an even better job of recording these works, the Naxos engineering being satisfactory but without the brilliance of some later productions. Stephen Gunzenhauser and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra give an enthusiastic rendition of Borodin?s three symphonies, although I sometimes had the feeling that they could have done more to uncover the structures behind the works. The first symphony surprises by not sounding particularly Russian, except for occasional reminiscences of ?In the Steppes of Central Asia? or the overture to ?Prince Igor?. The second is much more Russian in flavor, but without in any way being ?folkloristic?. The third symphony was in quite an early stage of conception at Borodin?s untimely death, and Rimsky-Korsakov?s pupil Glazunov ?completed? it, using both piano and string quartet sketches by Borodin and his own memory, so that in the end you cannot really say what is Borodin and what is Glazunov. At all events, rewarding listening ? and thanks to Naxos for venturing beyond the narrow limits of the normal concert repertoire.
Note written some time later: I have just heard the recording of these symphonies with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra directed by Neemi Järvi on Deutsche Grammophon. And I was right: the majors CAN do it better. There is a clarity and finesse here that the Gunzenhauser, good though it is, lacks."
Borodin on a budget...
vmzfla | Orlando, Fl. | 01/19/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For those on a budget this digital NAXOS entry of Borodin's 2.5 symphonies(the 3rd is unfinished)is a good value. Dabbling part time as a composer, between reasearch and teaching chemistry. The Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Glazunov influenced Borodin created symphonies particularly nationalistically Russian. His first symphony took 5 years to complete and was his first sustained exercise in composition. It is a mixed bag with elements of German tradition, with parts criticized as "second hand" Schumann and Berlioz. There is a touch of what was to come in his exotic unfinished opera "Prince Igor". Both Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov tweaked the work considerably. The second symphony took 7 years to complete coinciding with his work on "Prince Igor" It is thoroughly Russian in mood. It's content is from the same pen that made the "Polovtsian Dances" so novel and approachable. This being one of my favorite symphonies. The two movement third was constructed by Glazunov from sketches of what were to be string quartets with a slight influence of a theme originally to be used in "Prince Igor". On a whole it is of a gentle mood. The engineers give us full blooded sound and the performance lacks only the last degree of refinement."
Generally fine performances of some absolute masterpieces
G.D. | Norway | 10/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Borodin's three symphonies are indisputable masterpieces. The second is regularly performed, but it is a real shame that the first and the unfinished third don't receive more attention. The first, E flat symphony was composed between 1862 and 1867 and won considerable acclaim at its premiere. No surprise. The score is remarkably inventive and ingeniously constructed with superb themes used and colored with utmost skill and imagination. The work as a whole was important in establishing the typical `Russian' Symphony (Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov, even Myaskovsky and Shostakovich owe much to it, it seems), but it is utterly idiomatic with Borodin's personal signatures everywhere, from the expansive, atmospheric first movement, through the genial, energetic scherzo, the reflective and often beautifully wistful slow movement and the gloriously celebratory finale.
The second, b minor symphony is even better. Written at the same time as Prince Igor, the work has many of the same qualities (some of the material was even originally intended for the opera). The overall mood is heroic, but the work is colored by oriental-sounding harmonies - superbly crafted and scored, with feather-light textures contrasted with dark, tragic passages. It is intensely atmospheric, with ghosts of legends and myths being invoked throughout the work all the way to the glorious, yet tinged with wistful yearning, finale. The third symphony, in a minor, was left incomplete at the composer's death in 1887, but the two extant movements were completed and orchestrated by Glazunov. The two-movement structure is however, just as much as Schubert's Unfinished, able to stand on its own. And a remarkable work it is, lighter in texture, again generally wistful in mood, with some gorgeously memorable, syncopated themes worked out to an eminently satisfiable whole.
The performances are generally good, with Gunzenhauser having an admirable grasp of the music, driving it along with vigor and excitement and a sure hand at pacing the developments and climaxes. Unfortunately he doesn't always elicit the most spirited response from the orchestra, which sometimes sound undernourished and rough (but the third symphony is pretty good). Sound quality is more than decent, however. But even though these aren't quite the ideal performances, they are still good enough to warrant a firm recommendation - even though there are better versions in the catalogue, no one will really be going astray with these ones. And the masterly music here simply must be heard, no matter what."