Classical: The Compact Collection The Week's CD Releases

Rob Cowan on the Week's CD Releases

CLASSICAL CD purchases often involve complicated choices, but with Mussorgsky's epic masterpiece Boris Godunov the usual squabbles over singers or conductors are complicated by having to choose between four different versions of the score - two by Mussorgsky himself, one by his colleague Rimsky-Korsakov (much bejewelled and richly upholstered) and one by Shostakovich. Current tastes favour the granitic "originals', with their starkly majestic Coronation scenes and eloquent vocal writing. Claudio Abbado (on Sony) cherry-picks from both, but Philips has come up with the ingenious - and to my mind preferable - idea of packing the terse 1869 version and the longer 1872 rewrite (with its more prominent female presence) into one mid-price box.

Each recording has its separate lead protagonist: the sonorous Nikolai Putilin for 1869 and the theatrical Vladimir Vaneev for 1872. Inevitably, some recorded passages are offered twice, but in other respects they are quite separate productions. Sound-wise, Philips makes a digital showcase of the variously pitched bells which dominate the two Coronation scenes, and the conductor Valery Gergiev is acutely sensitive to the more lyrical aspects of both scores. Abbado still has the edge for refinement, but Gergiev is stronger on spontaneity.

Gergiev and Philips have already prepared a formidable discography of great Russian opera; but even they must bow - in quantitative terms at least - to the achievement of conductor Helmut Rilling. Not content with masterminding a "complete Bach" on CD, Rilling has also been tackling the great Romantic choral works, with Dvorak's tune-studded Te Deum being the latest in line. This is choral music on dancing feet, rowdy and unbuttoned in the opening "Te Deum Laudamus", tenderly reflective for the central solos and with a sun-drenched finale which brings us full circle. Rilling also throws in a couple of appealing Mendelssohn rarities: "Psalm 42" - a concise dry-run for Elijah, composed during the composer's honeymoon - and the even rarer a cappella "Hora Est".

Listening to Bach after Mendelssohn recalls an obvious influence. Yet most modern performers snub the Romantic approach to JSB, deeming it both unauthentic and musically inappropriate. Not so that veteran Romantic revivalist Aaron Rosand, fiddler extraordinaire and undaunted promoter of the unsung and unfashionable. Rosand has at last turned his attentions to Bach's unaccompanied violin music, and while holding steadfastly to his familiar interpretative principles (the tone is as big and the emotion as candid as ever), he exercises a modicum of restraint. Speeds are stately, old-world slides few and far between and expressive vibrato - that most hated device among "period" performers - is tastefully deployed. Vox's 1997 recordings are close and clear and the price is competitive.

Mussorgsky/Gergiev: Philips 462 230-2 digital (five discs for the price of three)

Dvorak, Mendelssohn/ Rilling: Hanssler/Select

CD 98.307 digital (full price)

Bach/Rosand: Vox/Priory VXP2 7901 digital (two discs, mid price)

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