Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Louis GLASS (1864-1936)
Symphony No. 2 (1899)
Fantasia for piano and orchestra (1913)
Romeo Smilkov (piano)
Philippopolis Choir/Radostina Borissova
Plovdiv PO/Nayden Todorov
rec Plovdiv, Aug and May 2000
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

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 Legend.

The orchestra, conductor and technicians are in good form perhaps the best so far in this series.

Rob Barnett

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 composer.

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?

John France


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

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers:
Amazon recommendations