Symphony No. 4 (1911)
Plovdiv PO/Nayden Todorov
rec Plovdiv, Oct 1999
I rate Louis Glass very highly indeed. On my, admittedly slender, knowledge
of his output his masterwork is the Symphony No. 5 Sinfonia Svastika
(nothing to do with Nazi-ism but with the Indian symbol for eternal life
- you used to see it on the spine of novels by Kipling). Svastika still
awaits an ideal recording but the Marco Polo recording (8.223486 - Peter
Marchbank conducting the SABC orchestra) is passable as also is the Danacord
historical recording (Danish RSO/Launy Grøndahl Danacord DACO139-140
mono) coupled with three other late romantic Danish symphonies. There are
some excellent radio tapes in private circulation including the Danish RSO
conducted by Michael Schønwandt (24 May 1982) and slightly cooler
performance with the same orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam (EBU broadcast
8 November 1990).
The voltage of the other symphonies is not as high as in No. 5. No. 3 The
Woodland has been well done by both the BBCPO/Edward Downes (BBC radio
39 November 1990) and Alf Sjoen conducting the Aalborg By-Orkester (early
1970s?). No. 4 has been superbly done by Jorma Panula with the Danish RSO
during the 1980s. No. 6 Skjoldungeaet is a tougher nut available on
the same Marco Polo as No. 5 but also conducted by Karol Stryja with the
Glass has had his revivals in Denmark as mentioned above. The ballet Artemis
(highly controversial more because of its erotic subject than its tribute
to The Rite of Spring) awaits a first performance in modern times.
The Symphonies 1 and 2 are totally unknown quantities. From radio tapes I
am aware of attractive works in shape of the Romantisk Overtyr (Aalborg
By-Orkester/Alf Sjoen) and the Hill of the Elves (Odense By-Orkester/Ole
Schmidt) and Summer Life suites (Sonderjylland SO/Borge Wagner).
The Fourth Symphony has some of the same quality as No. 5 without quite the
exuberance and profusion of memorable ideas to be found in the Fifth. It
is a work of Lisztian ambit. Did Glass have the Faust Symphony in
mind, I wonder? Something of the Liszt work's Mephistophelean 'sleight of
hand' hangs over at least the first movement. Given its scale you might have
wondered if Bruckner was in evidence. Nothing of the sort. The massive 20
minute first movement has a 'wopping' tune (12.22) but, for a change, Glass
does little to develop it, instead embellishing it in styles carrying somewhat
of Tchaikovsky and Nielsen (Helios). There is magic in the second
movement including the beautifully spun gentle (Rachmaninovian) string theme
in the second movement underscored by the harp at 4.36. The inspiration in
the Adagio creaks and flickers and at just over 17 minutes its charm
is over-stretched. The Allegro appassionato bursts with the brusque
energy of the finale of Rachmaninov Symphony No 1.
Theosophical dreamer that he was Glass might well be bracketed with Bantock
in England and with Adolph Biarent in Belgium. However the only work in which
he seems to have lapsed into Scriabinism was the Fantasy for piano
and orchestra (extremely well done on Danish Radio by Nina Gade and the
Sonderjyllands SO conducted by Jean-Pierre Wallez). I am tempted to claim
Glass as the greatest of the three because of his Fifth Symphony but Bantock's
Omar Khayyam places him at least on a par with Glass.
The orchestra is accomplished but in a work such as this I look for an element
of euphoria which came most of the time but which was tenuous in the last
two movements. This is an epic work and parts of it need a commitment which
sparkled in the first two movements but which fell away at the end.
The hall has a long and lively echo decay which helped the work considerably.
Make no mistake this is an enjoyable piece of romantica and you will be missing
out if you pass it by. It is, for example, superior to the early Alfven or
Bendix symphonies or Stenhammar's First.
Promisingly, this CD is labelled 'Louis Glass Vol 1'. I am hopeful about
hearing the first two Glass symphonies for the first time and that the orchestra
and conductor are given time to get under the skin of the work that deserves
a white hot performance - the Fifth Symphony. A glorious life experience
Danacord hopes that Symphonies 3 and 6 by Louis Glass will be out just a
few days before Christmas and that Glass's Symphony no 2 will be an early
February 2001 release.
If in difficulty by all means contact the UK distributors:
Discovery Records Ltd
phone 01672 563931
fax 01672 563934
or Danacord via their website at