Record Review: Russian Spectacular - Singapore Symphony Orchestra & Lan Shui

Guest reviewer and award winning composer George Richford reviews Russian Spectacular - Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lan Shui

This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc of orchestrated Russian music – familiar and not-so-familiar. Amongst Rimsky-Korakov’s completion and orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain, Ravel’s reworking of Pictures from an Exhibition and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances is a striking fantasy by Balakirev. Islamey (composed in 1869) was composed originally for piano but was orchestrated by Lyapunov and this recording is testament to his craft as the work only gains from orchestral treatment.

These are energetic performances of clinical precision – perhaps too clinical for those of us accustomed to the passion and excesses of Rozhdestvensky, Mravinksy et al. but Lan Shui brings an electricity of attack which is always compelling. He brings Ravel’s orchestration vividly to life; noble tempos and restrained colour are on offer here and Shui and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra achieve a real architectural integrity to the suite.

This is a highly detailed recording with especially close micing of the winds. You can hear the players breathing at times. This gives a very ‘Live’ sound impression – almost as if you are listening from the conductor’s podium. As in many recordings of Russian romantic and contemporary repertoire, the Piccolo tends to slice through the orchestral texture like a sickle and there are moments, especially in Bare Mountain where this is the case.

The choir sings with bell-like clarity in the Polovtsian Dances with added brightness from the younger voices. However, the choir sound like they are in separate room and the sound becomes overwhelmed by the orchestra at times.

This is a spectacular disc from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra of first-rate music-making. I listened to this disc on Beyerdynamic DT 770s through a Parasound Zdac v.2 Headphone amp.

The disc is available to purchase through Naxos, and Presto Classical, or on all major streaming services. 

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