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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Complete Solo Piano Music, Volume 1: Suite on the name SASCHA, Op. 2 (1883) [16'01]; Three Miniatures, Op. 42 (1893) [9'02]; Valse de salon, Op. 43 (1893) [6'56]; Grande valse de concert, Op. 41 (1891) [8'03]; Waltzes on the theme SABELA, Op. 23 (1890-1893) [3'17]; Petite valse (1892) [2'53]; Piano Sonata No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 74 (1900) [23'42];
Stephen Coombs (piano).
rec. Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, 16-17 October 1994. DDD


A tremendous disc. The fertility of Glazunov's imagination never fails to astound me, and by the end of the disc Stephen Coombs' take on this composer had completely won me around too. At first glance a programme consisting of a sequence of largely salon miniatures preceding the First Sonata seemed destined not to work. In the event, nothing could be further from the truth.

Coombs' dedication to his cause is evidenced by his learned and informative booklet notes - even if the order in which he discusses the works does not conform to the actual playing order of the disc itself. But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, so it is to the Suite on the name SASCHA ('S' equalling E flat) that we should turn first. This was the composer's first published piano composition; it is dedicated to his mother. After some bold octave statements, the flow of ideas is unstoppable. Coombs' evident affection for the more lyrical passages is most becoming. The capricious, almost waltz-like Scherzo - for more on Glazunov and the Waltz, see later - is pure delight, gorgeously shaded and lilting along in its own ultra-sweet way. The Nocturne third movement seems to hold hints of a subterranean tolling bell - gorgeously warm textures - before the final Valse (a fast one) reveals that Coombs' fingers have no difficulty in negotiating the trickiest terrain.

The Three Miniatures, Op. 42, comprise a deliciously delicate Pastorale (reminiscent of a Lisztian Eglogue), a light, almost Mendelssohnian Polka (all credit to Coombs' touch here again) and a witty, sweet Waltz. A nice idea to directly contrast a salon Waltz (that oozes charm) with a Grande valse de concert, still charming but which grows in difficulty substantially.

Interesting that the SABELA Waltzes seem almost orchestral in conception at times; and what a contrast to the music-boxy Petite valse! But it is of course the First Sonata that provides the meat of this disc. Dedicated to Nadezhda Rimsky-Korsakov (Rimsky's wife), it was premiered by Siloti, no less. Immediately we are in a darker world. The lyric melodies sound like a spontaneous outpouring in Coombs' hands. The Andante sounds perhaps a tad slow, a touch too prayer-like, in Coombs' hands, but it rises to an impressive climax before the caught-on-the-wing Allegro scherzando finale.

In short, a superb disc. The recording (Paul Spicer and Ken Blair) is crystal clear and yet with body. Recommended, especially at the price.

Colin Clarke




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