KHACHATURIAN: Masquerade Suite. KABALEVSKY: The Comedians, Op. 26.
RCA Victor Symphony Orch/Kiril Kondrashin, cond.
JVC JM-XR24014 (F) (ADD) TT: 33:15

TCHAIKOVSKY: Capriccio italien, Op. 45. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34.
RCA Victor Symphony Orch/Kiril Kondrashin, cond.
JVC JM-XR 24013 (F) (ADD) TT: 31:07

Russian conductor Kiril Kondrashin (1914-1981) had a distinguished career in Russia before he came to the United States in 1958 to conduct Van Cliburn's famous Carnegie Hall concerts. He was conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and USSR State Symphony Orchestra and gave many major world prmieres, particularly works of Dimitri Shostakovich, who was a close friend and colleague. Kondrashin also was a favorite in Holland beginning in 1968 when he first appeared with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and in 1975 was appointed permanent guest conductor (many of his fine Concertgebouw recordings were issued in 1993 in a Philips Collector limited edition).

Kondrashin and Van Cliburn made their famous recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 May 30, 1958 in Carnegie Hall with a hand-picked orchestra identified simply as "Symphony Orchestra." This superb performance already has been issued on JVC, sounding better than ever (REVIEW). Now JVC has turned to Kondrashin's recording of four familiar Russian orchestral works, the Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov recorded October 19, 1958 in Manhattan Center, the Khachaturian and Kabalevsky the following day in the same site. This time the orchestra was identified as "RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra," doubtless containing many of the same virtuoso ensemble that had accompanied Cliburn's Tchaikovsky concerto. Probably as well, many of the players in Masquarade also played in Stokowski's New York Philharmonic recording of the same work made about a decade earlier.

At any rate, these are the expected brilliant performances, very well played and, in this new 24 bit super analog remastering sounding extraordinary. Stereo spread is natural, the warmth of Manhattan Center always evident. There is a remarkable sense of presence in these classy new reissues. Packaging is luxurious although notes are only in Japanese, aside from an English listing of contents/timings and information about the remastering process. The problem here is the very short playing time: only 33:15 and 31:07 for a premium-priced CD. RCA in their Living Stereo series has issued all four works on a single mid-priced CD (63302). The sound is very good on the RCA release, which costs about one-fifth as much as these new prestige JVC issues, but there is no question the JVC issues are quite superior sonically. For audio buffs the extra cash outlay will be the way to go.

R.E.B. (March 2004)