Louis GLASS (1864-1936)
Symphony No. 2 (1899) [48.05]
Fantasia for piano and orchestra (1913) [22.46]
Romeo Smilkov (piano)
Philippopolis Choir/Radostina Borissova
Plovdiv PO/Nayden Todorov
rec Plovdiv, Aug and May 2000
This is volume 3 in Jesper Buhl's Danacord project to record the complete
orchestral music of Louis Glass. By our current meagre knowledge Glass's
right to fame rests on his Fifth Symphony. The Fifth is a work of memorable
lyrical power borne up on waves of ecstatic elation. There is something of
Delius in the fully mature music but in its synapses are fused the fluent
dynamics of Tchaikovsky. Until we hear Blomstedt, Pappano, Rattle, Salonen
and Bostock conducting the Fifth with the world's best orchestras there will
still be work to do for Glass.
For the current generation the Second Symphony was, until now, a
completely unknown quantity. While symphonies 3, 4, 5 and 6 were known to
a few from Danish Radio broadcasts, numbers 1 and 2 were passed by and there
are no easily accessible comparisons.
The Third Symphony had a Brucknerian melos. Bruckner is also, and most assuredly,
an influential voice in the Second but so also is the gentler Beethoven and
the dramatics of Schumann's Fourth Symphony. The more I hear of this Symphony,
especially the presto second movement, the more impressed I am with
the calibre of Glass's inventive powers. The adagio has a male voice
choir singing, here rather mournfully, of melancholy, grief and the night.
The words are by J.P. Jacobsen (a Delius favourite). The movement seems part
nocturnal meditation and part funeral march. The finale steps out in the
quiet bass developing a sturdy subdued march soon joined by the organ for
the first time. This movement rather sags and sprawls and one is left wondering
if Glass was struggling to create a convincing ending and not succeeding.
The much later Fantasia is the closest Glass came to writing
a piano concerto. It is pretty distantly removed from the symphony. Its ticking
and rolling piano and orchestral patterns recall Bax's Tintagel and
the dripping ostinato of the same composer's Spring Fire. This returns
at 10.17 and again at 17.07 playing out through the closing sheaf of pages.
The writing for lower woodwind is consonant with Bax's November Woods.
There is a wonderfully warming cello solo at 4.43 (at 12.18 and 14.45)
whose unhandselled pattern is further elucidated by Smilkov's delicately
pearly playing (5.38-7.44). Glass's approach links to the Tchaikovsky and
Rachmaninov concertos (No. 4) without their devastating panache and dusted
over with impressionism (try 14.05 to 16.16).
The Symphony is a big work and one in which Glass invested some of the best
of his creativity at that age. The first two movements are very strong indeed.
The focus blurs in the enigmatic third movement and the finale ambles
repetitively. It is still fascinating to meet the symphony at long last.
The Fantasy is an elusive and enigmatic piece perhaps closer to two
other works for piano and orchestra: Fauré's Ballade and Ireland's
The orchestra, conductor and technicians are in good form perhaps the best
so far in this series.
A further review from John France
I must confess that I am not yet convinced by the music of Louis Glass.
It is not that I do not like this composer's work or late romantic music
in general; I most certainly do. However the problem with Glass is that I
sense a lack of coherence in his music. Take, for example, the symphony under
review. There are times when I feel totally comfortable with the progress
of the music, the unfolding, if one wishes, of the musical argument. Then
I am lost. It is as if a speaker constantly makes a number of digressions
from their speech and never quite picks up the threads again. All that being
said, I do feel that this music deserves hearing and study. I imagine that
the reason I am struggling is that these works are completely new to me.
They are not part of my 'musical furniture'. And to be totally fair, there
are many pieces of music that I have long known and loved which show even
less coherence than this 2nd Symphony.
A brief glance at Glass' career will not come amiss. There is surprisingly
little written about him in English, which is a definite sin of omission.
However the facts are easily presented.
Louis Glass was born in 1864 into a musical household. In fact his father
was a composer and taught the piano. Naturally the young Louis rehearsed
his first scales with his parent. Later on he studied with one of the
better-known Danish teachers, A. Rudinger. At this time he also applied himself
to the Cello. But perhaps the decisive event in his studies was time spent
with Niels Gade, the great precursor of so much that is good in Danish music,
and a competent composer in his own right. Further studies at the Bruxelles
Conservatoire with Wieniawski prepared the young man for his career as a
Initially this career tended towards performance. He played regularly as
a cellist in the Copenhagen orchestral circuit. One of his claims to fame
must be that he was one of the very few musicians to perform the solo part
in a piano concerto and a cello concerto only one week apart! Unfortunately,
Glass was then afflicted with a partial paralysis. This terminated his solo
and orchestral career. However, it left him with much more time to write
music and to further his role as an educator.
Niels Gade was the leader of a musical renaissance in Denmark. Up until then
the country had been in the artistic doldrums. However, from Gade onwards
Denmark has produced some fine composers. Best known being Carl Nielsen.
However, there were and are many more including Nancy Dalberg, the maverick
Rued Langgaard and, in our own time, Ib Norholm.
Louis Glass wrote a number of works, including six symphonies. All these
works were composed in what might loosely be called the 'romantic,' or
'late-romantic style.' And as such it has suffered like so much of this kind
of music. Although initially very popular, after the First World War it was
no longer fashionable. At this time Nielsen was the rising star in Danish
music. And finally Glass's influence was lost amongst the note row
experimentation of Schoenberg and Webern and the neo-classicism of Stravinsky
and the French composers.
The 2nd Symphony was composed in the last year of
the nineteenth century and, strangely perhaps, received its first performance,
not in Denmark but in Leipzig. It was not until some five years later that
it was given in Copenhagen.
The symphony is scored for a very large orchestra complete with contrabass
tubas, chorus and concert organ. Everything that can be doubled or trebled
is, including the percussion. One of the features of the symphony, which
is obvious without a miniature score, is the composer's use of both homophonic
and contrapuntal music. It is the balance between these two 'techniques'
that, to my mind at any rate, leads to a somewhat skewed work. There is no
doubt that the composer has mastered form; he was well able to provide a
satisfactory development of his material. The first movement is in sonata
(modified) form. He was certainly not like his contemporary Rued Langgaard
who delighted in sticking together disparate elements of music. However,
there is a seeming imbalance between the lyrical and the not so lyrical!
Sometimes he sinks into what seems to be a gorgeous tune only to abandon
it with less attractive or inspired out-workings. Sometimes he seems to me
to be 'filling in.' There is a dead stop at about thirteen minutes, followed
by a beautiful reprise of the romantic tune. But then it is lost in meanderings
that seem to be part of the development.
The sleeve notes make allusions to the music of Bruckner; especially at the
end of the first movement and the last pages of the finale. There are to
me perhaps just as many references to Tristan. There are even moments
when one is reminded of Beethoven.
I find the scherzo uninspired, although quite competent in design and
orchestration. The 'second subject' certainly has it attractions. This is
no lightweight, quicksilver second movement; it is actually quite 'pesante.'
I am not at all convinced by the symbolist poetry sung by the male voice
choir in the slow movement. I would much rather he had omitted the singing.
The orchestra-only opening pages of this movement show considerable promise
yet somehow there is an 'In a Persian Market' feel to some of the
singing. In spite of this the choir performs very well, with some quite moving
moments. It is another example of Glass's eclectic style. One cannot quite
grasp the argument. The last movement is a little predictable; coming complete
with the organ to enhance the 'apotheosis'. There is a definite fugal opening,
which, in many ways, is quite out of character with the rest of the work.
The orchestral colours are often dark hued; yet Glass shows complete command
of the instrumentation. Some of the part-writing is naïve; it feels
as if he is 'padding' yet overall the last movement is quite good. I am reminded
towards the end of this movement of one of my favourite English Symphonies
- the Organ Symphony by Percy Whitlock.
The Fantasia for Piano & Orchestra, Op. 47 is another case
in point. I have listened to this piece three times and still cannot decide
whether I like it or not. It is quite a short piece, and this is probably
its problem. There is such a variety of styles contained in this work that
one comes away feeling that one has been on a whistle stop musical tour of
late romantic and impressionistic music. I do not really believe in saying
that 'this tune sounds like composer 'X' and these bars like composer 'Y''
but here in twenty short minutes I detect moods like Scriabin, Satie, Debussy
Rachmaninov and a few more besides.
There is a kind of 'programme' theme running through this work. It is based
on some of Glass's more esoteric philosophical notions. The motto heading
the score is "From the eternal dwellings of the spirit tones resound, which
summon man. And man turns away from the world, in order to find peace in
his heart." Frankly it does not help to understand this music.
There are moments in this work that are absolutely gorgeous and then a few
bars later I am left wondering what on earth the composer is trying to say.
It is not a part of my musical philosophy to enjoy music on the basis of
a few 'purple' passages scattered here and there through twenty minutes of
music. Perhaps if the work had been conceived as a full blown, three-movement
piano concerto the stylistic diversity may have endured?
The quality of the sound cannot be faulted (although I have been listening
to this recording on 'number two' system which does not perhaps do full justice
to the usual high aural performance of Danacord productions.)
I have never heard the orchestra before and I must confess that I had to
look up the town name 'Plovdiv' in the 'electronic' atlas to discover that
it is in Bulgaria. Then, of course, classical culture came to the rescue
- it was in fact Philippopolis of Thrace! But all that does not deny the
excellent performance given of this work by the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra,
the Philippopolis Chamber Choir and their conductor Nayden Todorov. Romeo
Smilkov accomplishes the Piano Fantasia with style and a great feeling
for the nuances of style mentioned above. I am surprised that we do not hear
much more of his playing in this country.
The sleeve notes in my opinion could have been a little more helpful on one
or two points. Although it gives an excellent 'history of review' of the
works, they are a bit short on the structure and content of the pieces. There
is also a 'typo' in the track listings where both pieces have the same opus
number. But that is a small criticism of a beautifully produced CD.
So what is my conclusion? I would really like to enjoy Glass's music. He
is a composer whom I feel ought to be right up my street; he is a late romantic
and I love late romantic music. Some of his orchestration and figurations
are stunning. Some of his slow passages are extremely poignant and very
beautiful. Yet I have this constant nagging in my mind that the works somehow
do not hang together. There is a lack of unity. However, I feel that his
music is well worth exploring. Many people may disagree with my assessment
and comments above.
I would most certainly like to have the opportunity to listen to the other
symphonies and orchestral works which Danacord is publishing. Perhaps then
my views will be considerably modified?
THE DANACORD GLASS SERIES:-
The series overview so far is as follows:-
Symphony No. 4 DACOCD 541
Symphony No. 3 & 6 DACOCD 542
Symphony No. 2 & Fantasy DACOCD 543
Symphony No. 1 & 5 DACOCD 544 (in preparation, June 2001)
If in difficulty by all means contact the UK distributors:
Discovery Records Ltd
phone +44 (0)1672 563931
fax +44 (0)1672 563934
or Danacord via their website at