In 1867 with the anticipation of some Slavic guests, Balakirev asked Rimsky-Korsakov to write a fantasy on Serbian themes for orchestra. He provided the thematic material and Rimsky-Korsakov liking the themes wrote the seven minute piece rather quickly. Quoting from his autobiography My Musical Life, “I was not at all carried away by Slavism but rather by the delightful themes Balakirev had selected for me.” It was first performed at Balakirev’s Slavonic Concert on May 12th of 1867. Because it was not written for valve chromatic French horns it was revised twenty years later and the result is what you hear today. With the horn work in a couple of places it was a wonder that it came about at all! It opens with the theme from a horn followed by violin and then flute. To my waxy ears it sounds quite Rimsky-Korsakov-like with a wonderful Russian theme, stodgy and stoic, but melodic. Three minutes or so into the work it makes a Wagner statement and goes right into a lively vibrant folk dance. It quickly blends both themes in a slow and vivacious fashion ending in a positive upbeat note. At twenty three this was quite a mature sounding work and one can already hear the use of his orchestral arranging talents.
"This disc offers some rarely heard Rimsky-Korsakov overtures and opera suites (actually, this Maid of Pskov suite stems from incidental music composed for a play of the same name, and not from the opera). ...the composer's remarkable penchant for vividly coloristic orchestration is always on display, especially in the exotic imagery of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and in the early Fantasia on Serbian Themes. ...Igor Golovchin and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra play the music with a wonderfully home-grown authenticity you won't find anywhere in the West. If you're interested in this music, this is how you should hear it."