Russia's Passion


Drama and passion, painted on a large canvas that seems to expand with each impulsive gesture and sigh. Such is the music of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, one of five powerhouse selections on David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's album Russian Sketches.

As we have come to expect from Tchaikovsky, the drama of his great tone poem melts into tenderness, expressed in heartfelt tunes that turn on a dime to propel the music forward to even greater dramatic heights.

From music inspired by the tragic heroine of the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno, Tchaikovsky's grand Polonaise from his opera Eugene Onegin takes us to a ball. It's music that makes you want to don your finest military finery or prom dress and tiara, and dance to oblivion.

Given the dramatic nature of so much Russian music, it's only fitting that the CD starts with music from opera, the Overture to Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla. Glinka's opening tune, one of those unforgettable short Russian greats, inspired Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov to write in a similar fashion. But, the opening of Rimsky-Korsakov's atmospheric Russian Easter Overture, also on the program, will perhaps remind you even more of his great Scheherazade.

The centerpiece of Russian Sketches, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches, is an expansive four-movement work that paints quite the picture of the Georgian Caucasus. With sections about a mountain pass, village, mosque and procession, it abounds in the color and exoticism that make for outstanding listening.