We have long needed a first-rate set of the Borodin symphonies and it would be churlish to deny that Järvi gives us just that. The cycle ought to fit on to one well-filled CD, but DG's makeweights are more than generous.
The steppes are treated with ample eloquence from the Swedish winds and the overall effect is enhanced by the excellent recording. The Polovtsian revelries include a brief contribution from the great Khan himself, effectively recalling the music's authentic, operatic context. The Petite Suite is something of a rarity, a little stolid in Glazunov's arrangement, though that may have something to do with the rather over-beefy sound. The real novelty in Jarvi's box is Nikolay Tcherepnin's exotic treatment of the familiar Nocturne. Tcherepnin was one of Prokofiev's favorite teachers—the only one actively sympathetic to Scriabin—and his arrangement transforms Borodin's chaste textures into an oriental tableau of glitter and excess. The 'authenticity' of Borodin's own scores has often been questioned, the First Symphony being regarded as something of a dry-run for the Second. This is to underestimate a remarkably accomplished composition, assembled under Balakirev's wing and yet unmistakably Borodin's own work. The First Symphonies of Rachmaninov and Sibelius are perhaps the more remarkable but neither would have been quite the same without this exuberant precursor. The old Record Guide even finds the theme of Elgar's Enigma anticipated 'anagrammatically' in the material of Borodin's Andante . Järvi plays the music for all it's worth and the big, bassy, resonant sound works well. In the Third Symphony and Prince Igor Overture, Järvi's familiar tendency to hustle the music along is more pronounced. If you see the Moderato assai marking of the first movement of No. 3 as incompatible with anything but the usual poised pastorale, Jarvi's dramatic, interventionist approach may not be for you. The scherzo is also tougher than usual, though by no means unconvincingly so. And I should say that the indisputably lyrical elements of the Overture are most beautifully shaped, the rubato natural and unforced. You will appreciate Jarvi's way with No. 2—an epic reading and the opening pages are superbly crisp—how listless Gergiev sounds by comparison (Philips)—and only the crescendo at the end of the movement (7'43"fl) seems a little too good to be true. Either Järvi's control of the orchestra is truly awesome or the engineers have contrived a little help. The conductor adopts a sensible tempo to articulate the bubbling scherzo, and his Andante is daringly broad. (The tempo indications and metronome marks here are in any case Rimsky's.) The evocative horn solo is eloquent indeed—it must have been a nightmare to play—and, if some of the phrasing later on seems a shade under-motivated at Järvi's leisurely pace, the fervour of the strings at the climax should convince you—they certainly convinced me. The finale is superbly done. Järvi's discs, comprehensively indexed and attractively boxed, would now be my first choice.--DAVID GUTMAN.