IN REVIEWING Andres Davis's interesting but uneven Columbia set of Borodin's three symphonies and the Overture and Poloytsian Dances from Prince Igor (M2 34587) last January, I mentioned the more extensive Borodin set - issued in England - by the National Philharmonic under Loris Tjeknavorian. It has taken till now for RCA to make its "Complete Orchestral Music" of Borodin available in this country, but it is here, at last, and the three discs (CRL3-2790) are specially priced so that they cost no more than Columbia's two.
Aside from cost, the RCA set is a more intriguing proposition.First of all, the important symphony, the Second, gets a stunning performance; it was rather drab in Davis' hands. Secondly, the Igor Overture goes with much more flair under Tjeknavorian, and he includes the Polovtsi March from the opera - performed here with its choral part intact; the Dances, eminently successful under Davis, have still more electricity in the new set (also with chorus).
Then there is the by no means negligible matter of the music on the third disc. In addition to the exquisite symphonic sketch In the Steppes of Central Asia and the equally familiar Notturno from the Second String Quartet, there is a Petite Suite , most imaginatively and effectively orchestrated by Glazunov from Borodin's piano pieces, and the rousing Final Dance from the ballet music Borodin contributed to the composite opera Mlada .
The opening movement of the Petite Suite , titled Au Couvent , sounds like an extract from the Coronation Scene in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov . There are six additional movements, without such echoes but with attractive surprises of their own. The Notturno , incidentally, is not played in the now-standard string-orchestra transcription by Sir Malcolm Sargent, but in a new one by conductor Charles Gerhardt, which is a bit less effective.
The First and Third symphonies were the most impressive parts of the Davis set, and they are somewhat less stylishly handled by Tjeknavorian. His relative lack of subtlety, though, is at least partially offset by the very high level of orchestral playing throughout his set and by RCA's richer and brighter recorded sound (the pizzicati in the scherzo of the First Symphony can at least be heard in this version). RCA has even had the good sense to press the set in manual sequence, so the various sections of the Petite Suite did not wind up on separate discs. This is certainly a convenient package, and a rather delightful one, too.
Still another recording of the Borodin Second - more than adequately performed - turns up on HNH 4039, a disc whose chief attractions are the otherwise unavailable works of Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov on its other side. The Balakirev is Russia , the second of that composer's overtures on Russian themes; Rimsky is represented by Skazka ("Legend" or "Fairy-Tale"), Op. 29. Both of these pieces occupy positions of some importance in the development of Russian music, and both are fascinating in their own right. They are given first-rate performances by Anshel Brusilow and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the recording itself, originated by HMV, is very good indeed.