Stunning conductor Vassily Sinaisky gives an authoritative account of these three native works.
Balakirev was an important figure in Russian music of the last century, but his reputation is founded on his influence, not his works. He was the leader of the group of five musicians commonly known as the "Mighty Handful". He was largely self-taught and disliked traditional musical methods. His influence created a strong identity for Russian music which it had not enjoyed before.
The twenty-two-year-old Balakirev revealed a talent in the Overture to King Lear (and accompanying inciental music) that has been said to rival that of the mature Beethoven in Egmont. The work combines a strict sonata form, including introduction and epilogue, with a neat musical synopsis of the play. The dual keys of B flat major and its dominant, and F major and its dominant, are used in answering fanfares at the start, perfectly suited to the pompous Lear.
In Bohemia began life as an "Overture on Czech Themes" in 1866-7, but the revised and re-orchestrated version dates from 1906. It melds together three Czech songs which Balakirev discovered in Vienna in 1866-7 in a book called Marriage among the Czech People by B M Kulda. The songs are low and reflective; lively and merry; and rhythmically complex at a moderate tempo. The orcehstra used is large - only his syphonic poem Tamara extends its forces with a tam-tam.
The First Symphony originates from as early as 1864, but was only finished in 1897 and performed in 1898 - Balakirev’s last appearance as a conductor. The musical material of the work is extremely simple but Balakirev develops it ad infinitum in what is more of a musical tapestry than a classical symphonic movement.