EMI ASD 509
Russian Orchestral Masterpieces
Georges Pretre, conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pressing: ER1 (semi-circle)
Price range: $31-182, mean $100 on popsike
Comments: This record reproduces work for work the exact same program that we performed in the Northwestern University Philharmonia for our spring concert in 1998. This album is essentially the album of Russian orchestral masterpieces, and I'm hard pressed to find another album which brings together all of these magnificent works. Side 1 opens with the fiery energy of Borodin's Polvtsian Dances from Prince Igor and keeps the heat on with Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain. These two were also on Columbia SAX 2327, but rather than Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture, we get on side 2 In the Steppes of Central Asia -- one of the most beautiful Russian orchestral pieces -- and finish with the crowd-pleaser Capriccio Espagnol. Folks, it doesn't get any better than this. The Royal Philharmonic under the direction of Georges Pretre really shine on this album. They produce a big sound, which I feel is really critical for these works to have their desired impact, and the instrumental solos, of which there are many in these various works, are delivered with precision.
The sound on this album is exemplary of the best of early 1960s tube sound. Keep in mind, this is a second pressing, not the original white and gold, which I am going to rave about -- it's that good. One thing you'll notice right away is how quiet the surfaces are. Surface noise is almost nonexistent, allowing the listener to really be able to appreciate the music in quieter passages. Instrumental solos, such as the harp in the fourth movement of Capriccio Espagnol, are clearly heard. Cymbal crashes have a wonderful but natural impact and resonance, and this is really appreciable in the Polovtsian Dances as well as A Night on Bald Mountain. I don't know if I've truly noticed this effect on other recordings, including that of Matacic and the Philharmonia, and that was one feature which made this album sonically unique for me. Bass is perhaps not the absolute deepest but it is powerful. Just listen to the bass drum on beat one of the opening measures of the final movement of the Polovtsian Dances, and you'll know what I am talking about. Reproduction of the brass instruments throughout the record is clear and resonant. Treble to my ears was just right, natural sounding and not too bright. One nice example here is how you can clearly hear the high E harmonics played by the first violins in the fourth movement of Capriccio Espagnol. Hall acoustics give just the right amount of air to the recording. In summary, this album is a huge success in my mind and establishes itself as one of my all time favorite EMI ASD records and the Russian orchestral album to own.