This disc of orchestral showpieces features four of the five members of the Mighty Handful, a group of Russian composers who during the second half of the 19th century collaborated to create a distinct national style. The recorded works illustrate different aspects of their endeavours – both in terms of the musical means they employ and their subject matter. Orientalism is one of the typical features of the music of the group, as witness Balakirev’s Islamey – employing material from the Caucasus Mountains – and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, describing the revels of a nomadic eastern tribe during a 12th-century raid into the Russian lands.
The most individual of the group was Modest Mussorgsky, with a musical language both powerful and startlingly vivid in imagination. His celebrated Pictures from an Exhibition was composed in 1874 as a tribute to a recently deceased artist friend, and takes in such specifically Russian elements as the fairy-tale witch Baba Yaga and the Great Gate of Kiev. Originally written for the piano it is here performed in the 1922 orchestration by Maurice Ravel. Also by Mussorgsky, the opening Night on a Bare Mountain paints a witch’s Sabbath in bold brushstrokes, and was re-orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov after the composer’s death. It is his version, with more sumptuous orchestral textures and a tighter formal plan that is heard here, performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Lan Shui.