KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus Ballet "complete recording"
RIAS Kammerchorl; Deutsches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Michail Jurowski, cond.
CAPRICCIO C5112 (2 disks) TT: 75:47 & 61:02
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ROUSSEL: Le festin de l'araignée. Padmavati
Royal Scottish National Orch/Stéphane Denève, cond.
NAXOS 8.572243 TT: 54:53
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DVORÁK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World." Slavonic Dance in C, Op. 46 No. 1. Slavonic Dance in E, Op. 72 No. 2.Czech Suite, Op. 39.
Bournemouth Symphony Orch/José Serebrier, cond.
WARNER CLASSICS 256466656 TT: 75:22
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RACHMANINIOFF: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44. Prince Rostislav. Caprice bohémien, Op. 12.
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Gianandrea Noseda, cond.
CHANDOS CHAN10677 TT: 73:49
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RACHMANIUOFF: Spring, Op. 20. Three Russian Songs, Op. 41. The Bells, Op. 35.
Svetla Vassileva, soprano; Alexei Tanovitski, bass; Mischa Didyk, tenor; Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre; BBC Philharmonic Orch/Gianandrea Noseda, cond.
CHANDOS CHAN 10706 TT: 62:53
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This new Capriccio CD states it is a complete recording of Spartacus, but this is confusing as there are various versions of this dramatic, colorful ballet. Many suites have been recorded and all include the magnificent Adagio danced by Spartacus and Phrygia, the biggest "hit" in the ballet. There are many spectacular dances by the slave Spartacus, his wife Phrygia, the Roman leader Crassus, and Aegina, his scheming lover. In 1956 the ballet was premiered by the Kirov Ballet with choreography by Leonid Banyaminovich, but in 1968 the Bolshoi Theatre presented a new production choreographed by Yuri Griorovich and since then this version has received couintyless performances. There are a number of these available on DVD—see our DVD video listings for some of them. This new recording states it is based on the Grigovich version. It includes a wordless chorus heard in 5 tracks—I haven't heard a chorus in any other recording. The performance by the excellent Berlin orchestra is outstanding, and Michail Jorowski's conducting is spirited and sensuous. Audio is state-of-the-art, with blazing brass totally appropriate for this music. This is excellent in every way. The two-discs sell for the price of one CD.

Stéphane Denève already has recorded most of Albert Roussel's orchestral works, available in a budget-priced four-CD set. The Naxos series concludes now with this disc of two ballets, "The Spider's Banquet" and excerpts from the seldom heard Padmavati. The Spider's Banquet usually is known as The Spider's Feast (on this set it is identified both as The Spider's Banquet and The Spider's Web). Call it what you will, it is a delicately scored ballet pantomime about the life and death of insects and a spider. Padmavati takes place in fourteenth century Chitoor where the queen Padmatavi reigned. It was inspired by the composer's visit to India and he incorporates some Indian themes. Padmavati had its premiere in Paris in 1923 and then virtually disappeared from the stage although there is a complete recording on EMI with a starry cast (Marilyn Horne, José Van Dam, Nicola Gedda) conducted by Michel Plasson. The six excerpts heard on this new recording include a very subdued War Dance, and Dance of the Female Slaves. Denève and the Scottish Orchestra play very well, and the sound is excellent.

We really don't need another cycle of Dvorák symphonies unless it is of exceptional quality. Over the years there have been countless recordings of all of the symphonies; ArkivMusic lists 358 currently available—not counting the dozens that have been deleted. A mainstay in the catalog are the famous '60's Decca recordings with István Kertész and the London Symphony still sounds very good and is available at budget price. There are more than 200 recordings currently available of Symphony No. 9. This new routine performance of New World offers no competition to the best of existing version, and is not helped by the slack performance of Hungarian Dance No. 1 that precedes it. Another Hungarian Dance and the American Suite are also included. I have great admiration for Serebrier —he has made many fine recordings, particularly his recent set of Glazunov concertos, music by contemporary composers, and Stokowski transcriptions. Unfortunately, he seems to have little affinity for Dvorák. Skip this one.

Chandos continues their Rachmaninoff series with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic with these two discs. One features choral music, and these performances sound particularly authentic as they feature the vital Mariinsky Theatre chorus, an organization that sang in the St. Petersburg premiere of The Bells in 1913 with the composer on the podium.The cantata The Spring premiered in 1902, the Three Russian Songs, written much later, were first performed in March 1927 with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, concerts that also included the premiere of Piano Concerto No. 4. (which was not enthusiastically received). The Bells is based on Edgar Allen Poe's poem and was one of the composer's favorite works; he originally considered it to be a choral symphony. Three of the movements feature vocal soloists; all feature the chorus. There are many recordings of The Bells, notably those conducted by André Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Charles Dutoit. This new version has a Russian texture; particularly the soprano whose rather steely sound is far removed from the elegant luxury of Sheila Armstrong on the 1975 Previn recording. Bass Alexei Tanovitski is superb in his solos in The Spring and The Bells. The two early orchestral works, Caprice bohémien and Prince Rostislav, are not among Rachmaninoff's finest work, Noseda and his excellent orchestra do what can be done for them. There are many other recordings of Symphony No. 3, but this new version stands up well against the finest. And we do have the wonderfully clear Chandos engineering.

R.E.B. (February 2012)