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Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Symphony no. 1 in E flat Op. 8, (1900)
Symphonic Poem: The Sirens Op 33.(1908)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser
NAXOS 8.550898
(DDD) [48:46]
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What a lovely, melodious, sunny and cheerful symphony.

For those who like comparisons, Rimsky-Korsakov comes to mind. Glière is not a Tchaikovsky ... thank goodness. Glière's music is unpretentious, colourful, happy but not superficial. Themes abound and what good tunes they are ... memorable, catchy and evocative..., but never silly or trite. The orchestration is magical, never extreme or overpowering. His music is essentially Russian but not in the bombastic Tchaikovskian style. What a relief that is! As someone once said, "Tchaikovsky was the composer of grand, grand light music.' But that is not intended to "knock" him. Laying aside the ballet scores, he was often a fine orchestrator.

But Glière is not into anything excessive. He is concerned with good music and is an exemplar of the truth that simplicity makes the best effects in music and not the grand empty gestures that Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Elgar often displayed.

Glière was of Belgian descent and born in Kiev in 1875. His father made wind instruments and young Reinhold learned the violin. He went to the Kiev University from 1891 to 1894 before going up to the Moscow Conservatory where, among his teachers were Taneyev, Arensky and Ippolitov-Ivanov. Between 1902-3 he taught Prokofiev and then went to Berlin to study conducting. Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no.1 was premiered by the composer under Glière in 1916. For twenty years (1920-41) Glière taught at the Moscow Conservatory and took a great interest in folk music of various parts of Russia. He died in 1956.

Unlike Prokofiev, Shostakovich and the admirable Myaskovsky, Glière did not have any "run-ins' with the Soviet authorities and was not denounced. His music owes more to the romantic tradition rather than the advanced or non-nationalistic styles which the Soviet regime rejected.

His ballet scores, The Red Poppy and The Bronze Horseman are decidedly popular and do not suffer from that rather disconcerting effeminacy that you sometimes encounter in the ballets of Tchaikovsky. Again this is not a swipe at Tchaikovsky, merely a comparison. Glière's ballets while extensive, do not linger or indulge. Tchaikovskv is more dramatic as seen in his best scores such as the Piano Concerto no. 2 (1880) the Fantasy Overture Hamlet (1888), Voyevoda (1891) and the earlier String Quartet no. 3 in E flat minor (1876), superb scores, all of them. His operas, particularly Eugene Onegin are probably his best work and his songs are exquisite. I wish someone would undertake to record them all.

But Glière is far more impressive than Tchaikovsky.

As with Mozart, Glière knew that to express something most effectively was in simplicity and not by repetitiveness or with the use of a sledge-hammer.

His Symphony No 1 was begun in 1899 while he was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory and completed the following year when he graduated. The first movement begins with an andante before entering the allegro. It is warm, encouraging, tuneful music beautifully written and scored. The colours are simply magical. There is a joyful old-fashioned scherzo which is also hugely enjoyable. The slow movement is lyrical and extremely lovely. Yes, it is old-fashioned but none the worst for that. The finale heads towards a stirring conclusion. The whole symphony is soul-satisfying.
Gorgeous music. That type of music that makes you feel really good! Evocative, too. The sort of music you associate with a sunny but not hot day when you can walk or sit quietly in the country and enjoy the peace and solitude and those things that money cannot buy. The same feelings that Chausson's Piano Quartet in A summed up for me in a recent review.

While I love modern and innovative music (I was sorry that a reviewer tore Wolfgang Rihm to shreds recently) this music has a quality one cannot quite describe.

Eight years after the symphony came the Symphonic Poem: The Sirens, a picture of those seductive women that lured sailors to their doom. This symphonic portrait is very good with an eventual climax. There is no excess, no musical madness, just honest and gratifying music.

I have, however, heard both works in better performances. But these are good and have no awful blots. The sound is quite good too.

A bargain for a really choice symphony. This is one to buy!

David Wright



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