The Enchanted Kingdom
A more predictable context for Liadov’s three miniatures masterpieces would have been to follow the music of the composer who was too lazy to write The Firebird with the suite of the young genius who did. Pletnev, however, comes up with the kind of interesting alternative his Russian overtures disc (DG, 8/94) might have led one to expect. The companions in this case are Rimsky-Korsakov – who would have been candidate number one for The Firebird, had he lived – and Tcherepnin the elder, who composed the first original score for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. La princesse lointaine comes as a heady breath of extended melody after Liadov’s crafty manipulation of short phrases; after a blurry moment early on, the Russian National strings soon settle into their lyrical notespinning, never sensuous but certainly vivid in the ecstatic climax of the piece. Le royaume enchante, on the other hand, makes one treasure the subtler, more spellbinding half-lights of Liadov’s Enchanted Lake all the more, though this paraphrase on Kastchei’s domain is beguiling enough, with its whole-tone splashes of colour and languid firebird, and Pletnev brings the details into firm but appealing focus.
Soporific enchantments remains the order of the day with the Golden Cockerel Suite (in the present company, the suite from The Invisible City of Kitezh, which owes as much to Wagner’s Forest Murmurs as Liadov’s Enchanted Lake, might have been a more enriching choice). Not the happiest of concert-hall paste-ups on the parts of Maximilian Steinberg and Glazunov, its extensive reliance on mood-music is only highlighted by the Tcherepnin exercise in static atmosphere which precedes it. Pletnev is probably right, under the circumstances, to move such episodes as the Astrologer’s music along with a briskness they would hardly warrant in the context of the complete opera, though I’m less happy with the refusal to linger over the brooding cor anglais folk-song of the cat’s lullaby at the start of Kikimora. Anyway, the clarinet’s way with Rimsky-Korsakov’s arabesques captures the right degree of Shemakhani mystery – the RNO woodwind as a whole seem to have gained immeasurably in character – and the Wedding Procession duly blazes, much assisted by the recording’s brilliant high frequencies and a fulsome bass which truthfully reflects the acoustics of the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall. Set alongside the deeper characterizations of Kurtz’s Rimsky and Liadov on what has to be the superlative Russian treasury (a two-disc reissue originally from the late 1950s and early 1960s), Pletnev and company still have some way to go, but there’s no shortage of gleaming charm in evidence here.'