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Outstanding Slav Passion:

Vassily Sinaisky
conducts Balakirev

CD Review

Although Balakirev’s First Symphony had a long period of gestation, the finished product is definitely one of the finest examples of its genre. The normal four-movement structure contains a wealth of themes and developments, all fused into one satisfying whole. Sinaisky’s account is one of the best we have had in recent years, and comes into direct comparison with Svetlanov’s similarly fiery version on Hyperion.

The first movement is broad and mysterious, rather in the vein of Karajan’s classic 1949 account, but obviously this new version benefits from even greater detail and the bouncing rhythm of the development section is even more pronounced. Balakirev’s dazzling Scherzo is mercurial here with the BBC strings lithe and deft, almost like winged messengers in their vitality. I have a soft spot for Karajan’s Philharmonia rendering of the sublime slow movement but the BBC players run them close. Indeed, the singing qualities of their woodwind instruments are almost similar to those fabled players of fifty years ago.

There is also dash and flair in Sinaisky’s Finale, although the tempo is a little too laid-back for my taste. It does little to detract from recommending this altogether superb version wholeheartedly. The couplings are also fine with a passionate and brazenly vivid account of King Lear and a suitably introspective view of In Bohemia. The latter is sentimental indeed, and the strings play with real quality, especially in the marvellously sustained opening to the piece.

I have already made a pointed reference to the quite superb Chandos sound. It was entirely appropriate that I should listen to this CD on a Marantz CD-17 (also under review!), to appreciate the wide dynamic range and almost holographic quality that the engineers have managed to capture. This issue wins hands down, both for polish and vitality and for technical superlatives.

Copyright © Gerald Fenech, March 13th 1999


Balakirev: Symphony No. 1, King Lear
Balakirev: Symphonic Poem In Bohemia

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Vassily Sinaisky


DDD                            Playing time: 65m


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