Too much can be made of Borodin the jolly chemist, concoting pieces in his spare time as though he was fiddling with a bunsen burner. Even in an age of dilettantes, he was a deeply serious composer whose re-engagement with the symphonic form through an apparently unamenable nationalist tradition resulted in a remarkable and inimitable style, long-breathed and sinuous. There is no excess fat or sentiment in Borodin’s music, which is the mark of a master, not an amateur. With a mastery of orchestral colours to rival Tchaikovsky, he brought both German abstraction and wild Caucasian ritual into Russian concert halls.
The Second is the best-known of his three symphonies, with its popular not-quite-slow movement, but the First is an impressively weighty, goal-directed, full-scale effort for an enthusiast in the very early stages of formal tutelage (with Mily Balakirev). As well as the unfinished Third Symphony, the set includes his other, most popular music: the slow movement of the Second Quartet, arranged for string orchestra, the ruminative tone-poem In the Steppes of Central Asia (in an atmospheric recording conducted by Leonard Bernstein) and naturally excerpts from his compendious folk-epic opera, Prince Igor.
Symphonies Nos. 1-3 (Complete)
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances
In the Steppes of Central Asia
String Quartet No. 2: 3rd Movement (Notturno)