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The 'other' orchestral works on CHANDOS


Bronze Horseman suite
Horn Concerto

Richard Watkins (horn)
BBCPO/Edward Downes
CHANDOS CHAN 9379 [70.16]


Gliere's reputation rests on some ballet music (principally The Red Poppy) and the epic length Ilya Mouramets symphony (No. 3). The Symphony has been recorded by a range of distinguished conductors. Both Ormandy and Stokowski have recorded it in cut versions. Unicorn let Harold Farberman loose on the symphony in a very full version back in the 1970s. There have also been recordings of the full version by Nathan Rachlin, Donald Johanos, Yoav Talmi and Edward Downes.

Gliere was no slouch when it came to producing music and while you can at times catch a sense of the 'conveyor belt' about the stream of works the predominant impression is of a pleasantly catchy character. Downes is a well known Russophile. His work on Prokofiev scores is well known. He produced and broadcast performing versions of his early operas and his dedication to obscure but accessible music places him the same category as the late Norman Del Mar.

The Bronze Horseman encompasses many stylistic streams. The first movement reeks of the Meistersinger overture, the second has traces of Borodin's DNA. There is a proud and dainty grace about this music which places it as a successor to Glazunov's ballet scores. The BBCPO play idiomatically. The Parasha movement has the strength and lyric sweep of Rosenkavalier but with helpings of Tchaikovsky and Khachaturyan along the way. The music has a most persuasive lilt: oriental and sloe-eyed.. The Lyric Scene is operatic. It would be very easy to hear a voice in this music e.g. in line taken by the clarinet. The Waltz is in the robust grand manner - generous infusions of oompah and the glinting of small bells. This episode is obstreperous enough to slide neatly into Samuel Barber's Souvenirs. Anticipation thunders and lightens in the grandest manner - a dark sky riven by murderous conflict. The final Hymn to a Great City (adopted by Leningrad) is a slow rising surging paean which includes a piano part in its wave crests of sound. One might wonder if parts of this grand statuary might easily have read across into a National Socialist rally surrounded by Albert Speer's 'kolossal' architecture. Can't help falling for its awesome overstatement.

The Horn Concerto sings sturdily and in Germanic romantic accents sounding somewhat like the Schoeck and the Richard Strauss (No. 1). In the first movement a most striking melody is rollingly taken by Richard Watkins' solo instrument. The music becomes more Slavonic in the final movement. though this soon dispels in deference to a flavour of Teutonic trauer music.

Impressive recording quality is a given in all the Chandos Gliere series.


Overtures and Orchestral Works
Gyul'sara overture (1936)
Concert Waltz
Shakh-Senem overture (1925)s
Ballad (1902) *
Overture on Slavonic Themes (1941)
Heroic March for Buryat-Mongolian ASSR
Holiday at Ferghana overture (1940)
Peter Dixon
BBCPO/Edward Downes
CHANDOS CHAN 9518 [75.30]

This generous anthology of the smaller pieces by Gliere suggests a library project. There is not a single piece here which has any fame. Shakh-Senem may be known to a few but on this disc that work is the closest approximation to a 'known quantity'.

The Concert Waltz is eruptive and grand in the manner of the two Glazunov concert waltzes. It has none of the psychological crunch of a Prokofiev waltz. The Ballad (an early piece) is pleasantly kin to the Glazunov and Frank Bridge salon pieces. The Overture on Slavonic Themes is strangely Beethovenian (02.01), in parts, fugal (05.36) - broadly romantic but finally uncompelling.

Gyul'Sara is the longest piece on the disc at just over 16 minutes. Here you need to think in terms of a modernised Russian Easter Festival Overture with oriental accents, a central fugue and some simply magnificent brass writing out of Sibelius Symphony No. 1 and En Saga. Did Basil Poledouris hear this before writing the music for the Conan films?

Shakh-Senem (an opera premiered in Baku and dubbed The Worker of Baku in 1934) is similarly sloe-eyed and Arabian (try 06.02) in the manner of Rimsky's Antar, Balakirev's Tamar (at least the sinister dance sections) and Borodin's Prince Igor. Barbaric grandeur and exoticism strike Hispanic sparks off each other (07.30).

The Heroic March has an abrasively crunching tread which generates some affirmative satisfaction. There is some great high contour work for the horn choir at 03.14. Well worth hearing and as David Nice says in his far from euphoric notes, this work is closer to a tone poem than to a gormless march.

To close proceedings ten minutes worth of Holiday at Ferghana. More exotic Middle-Eastern markets, camels and bazaars. Thank Heavens there is none of the 'bizarre' cheapskate atmosphere of the pier end band. Instead the music has an authentic snap and finger-cymbal sparkle. If anything the linkage is with the sincere exoticism achieved by Biarent and Schmitt.

There is more Gliere to come. Let us not slight unheard the overture Twenty Five Years of the Red Army, the marching song Hitler's End Will Come, Victory Overture, and what about a major suite from The Red Poppy ballet (1927).

Now Chandos (and Sir Edward) is there any chance of a Lev Knipper, Ivan Dzerzhinsky and Yuri Shaporin orchestral series? If this is all too obscure why not a commercially astute move to record the unrecorded Miaskovsky symphonies. Numbers 4, 14 and 20 await you. The world of Russian music collectors waits to snap up the first commercial recordings of these works.

For now this disc is the most intriguing of the Chandos series - at least outside the three symphony discs.


Harp Concerto (1938) 26.59
Coloratura Soprano Concerto (1943) 13.54

Harp Concerto (1956) 23.43
Rachel Masters (harp)
Eileen Hulse (soprano)
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CHANDOS CHAN 9379 [68.13]

Self-evidently this was not designed as part of the Gliere/Downes series which it predates by at least four years. Nevertheless it deserves to be read in that context.

This collection comprises three substantial works: two harp concertos and a soprano concerto. This amounts to almost three quarters of an hour of music by Gliere plus Ginastera's harp concerto.

The Gliere Harp Concerto is a product of the late 1930s and is contemporary only in terms of the time-line. It is unchallenging harmonically. Its sentimental redolence is Gallic in orientation with recognisably Russian elements only intruding in the last of the three movements. The other two have an undemanding charm which make this an easy companion for the Boieldieu concerto. The occasional nondescript invention that hangs over the first two movements of the harp concerto do it few favours.

The soprano concerto is a stronger work and more easily holds the attention The first of the two movements (andante) is lyrical and recalls the Rachmaninov Vocalise rather strongly. The voice is deployed with little regard to the practicalities of breath control. In many ways this can be looked at as violin concerto manqué simply written for soprano voice. Eileen Hulse's voice is appositely attuned to the work and is superior to the cavernous and matronly tones of Joan Sutherland whose recording was made for Decca. The second movement melds Grand Hotel style with the lyrical flood of the first movement. Ms Hulse's attack and the steadiness of her tone coupled with precision of attack is an outstanding asset especially in the chuckling duo between the voice and the flute at 03.12.

The Ginastera is a world away from Gliere. His harp concerto has taut attack and a springy and fragile brightness which is a breath of fresh air after the pleasantries of the Gliere. It is not short on dreamy tunefulness - try 1.55 in the first movement before it gives way an aggressive hunt sequence. The premiere was given by Nicanor Zabaleta (an artist much associated with Deutsche Grammophon) who also advised the composer on the composition. The work was commissioned by Edna Philips harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The modern score is added further zest by a far from laid back percussion section of 28 instruments.

Rachel Masters (whose Chandos disc of the Alwyn Lyra Angelica is very fine indeed) is fully the equal of the challenges of both concertos and gives the impression of comprehensive engagement.

There are other recordings of the Ginastera and the Gliere harp concertos but no identical coupling. The presence of the Ginastera is welcome to provide contrast with the tendency of the Gliere works to doodle in bland orthodoxy.

Decent though hardly generous notes.

Reviews from previous months

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