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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
String Quartets Volume 1

String Quartet No. 3 Op. 26 (1886-1888)
String Quartets No. 5 Op. 70 (1898)
Utrecht String Quartet
Recorded Doopsgezinds Church, Haarlem, March 2003
MDG 603 1236-2 [56.33]


This is the first volume in a cycle of the complete Glazunov Quartets. He had a precocious success with his First, written in 1882, written shortly after the First Symphony, also a success. The new cycle begins with two Quartets that have always held a toehold in the recorded repertory from the days of the 78 onwards.

The Third was written between 1886 and 1888 and is a four-movement work that bears some distinct similarities to a suite. The reason is that the opening movement was written as an independent piece called Chetverka and the others took on cyclic form around it. That opening Moderato certainly has a hymnal generosity to it at a controlled tempo. There are some fine opportunities for unison writing and the profile is both winning and lyrically charming. The Interludium, rich, romantic, dense is contrasted with the succeeding Alla Mazurka in which Glazunov gives excellent voicings and fillips to the violins – as well as some elegant and elfin writing in the pizzicato episode. It’s not really earthy – more salon than soil, this – but the cello drone does impart a certain countrified vivacity to the proceedings. The finale is delightfully vibrant and light-hearted, with its dance rhythms preserved almost intact. It employs Russian, Polish and Czech dance rhythms to warm effect, then takes up a strong march rhythm and strides towards a triumphant ending. Glazunov was obviously taken by his own creation as he made an orchestral piece out of it called Slav Holiday.

The Fifth dates from a decade later than the Third. It’s a much more formal, less exultantly loquacious work. Its concision takes traditional form, indeed going so far as to open with a fugue, but a fugue that succeeds in conveying real expressive nuance. The elegantly dancing Scherzo has fine pizzicato moments for the cello and courtly ones for the two violins. The Utrecht take the Adagio (marked con licenza) at a good flowing tempo without endangering its plangent potential. There’s nothing static or self-regarding about this Adagio; though it embraces the melancholy it strives toward - and is imbued by - the light. The Utrecht certainly catches the motorically joyful muse of the finale with its echoes of the Scherzo’s fleetness and the opening movement’s fugal development.

There’s competition in the Fifth from the Shostakovich Quartet (on Olympia – if you can find it) and from the excellent St Petersburg on Delos, coupled with the Five Novelettes. For older readers the Testament reissue of the Hollywood’s classic recording is coupled with works by Borodin and Tchaikovsky. But in its elegant and precise way the Utrecht have made a fine start in their welcome cycle.

Jonathan Woolf


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