A true celebration, ushering in the New Year with one of the finest orchestras and greatest conductors in the world. The 2007 Gala from Berlin features the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle in Alexander Borodin's Second Symphony, a richly lyrical work of immense poetic grandeur and fairy-tale magic, in a programme that also includes one of the greatest classical hits ever: Modest Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition'.
Valery Gergiev directs the Kirov Opera and Ballet in this magnificent 1998 production of Borodin’s "Prince Igor", presented in a new Mariinsky Theatre performing edition and featuring Mikhail Fokine’s original choreography in the famous Polovtsian Dances. Its four acts tell of the struggle between the Russians and Polovtsian nomads, of Prince Igor’s capture and escape from his noble opponent, Khan Konchak, and of love between Igor’s son, Vladimir, and Konchak’s daughter, Konchakovna.
Borodin’s splendid epic of Old Russia was recorded in Paris in 1966 with the forces of Sofia National Opera, conducted by Polish-born Jerzy Semkow, a protégé of the legendary Russian maestro Yevgeny Mravinsky. The great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff, a master of vocal characterisation, takes two roles: Prince Igor’s wicked brother-in-law Prince Galitsky and the surprisingly benign Khan Konchak, who famously commands his people, the Polovtsy, to dance for his noble Russian prisoner of war.
Borodin’s First Symphony isn’t especially interesting, but his Second is a masterpiece, tightly constructed, brilliantly orchestrated, and tunefully delightful. It’s really the only work of its period to rank with the symphonies of Tchaikovsky (along with, possibly, Balakirev’s First), and Tjeknavorian’s performance of it, indeed of all three works, is outstanding. He doesn’t fuss with or manipulate tempos or textures, preferring instead to keep the music moving energetically and allowing the musicians of the National Philharmonic to inject as much color and vitality as possible. The scherzo flashes by like lightning, the slow movement is aptly seductive, and the finale dazzles. As I suggested, the other two works are less obviously successful, but the performances are no less adept. Produced by Charles Gerhardt, we can expect fine sonics, and that’s just what RCA delivers. In this music, you won’t find better.
Terpsicore (HWV)(8b) is a prologue in the form of an opéra-ballet by George Frideric Handel. Handel composed it in 1734 for a revision of his opera Il pastor fido which had first been presented in 1712. The revision of Il pastor fido with Terpsicore as the prologue was first performed on 9 November 1734 at Covent Garden theatre in London, opening Handel's first season in that newly built theatre. Terpsicore mixes dance along with solo and choral singing and was patterned after models in French operas, a particular source being Les festes grecques et romaines by Louis Fuzelier and Colin de Blamont, first presented in Paris in 1723. The work featured the celebrated French dancer Marie Sallé as well as stars of Handel's Italian operas and was a success with audiences of the day.