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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Symphony No.2 in F# minor Op.16
Mazurka in G Op.18
From Darkness to Light Op.53
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Tadaaki Otaka (conductor)
Recorded at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales on 3 and 4 March 2001
BIS-CD-1308 [64’ 20"]


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There’s plenty of Glazunov about these days, what with Naxos’s monumental series which, as an alternative or for comparison, features all three of these works on two of their discs. His music is very approachable; we are discussing works written in 1886 (the symphony), 1888 (Mazurka) and 1894 (the orchestral fantasy). Glazunov lived his three score years and ten (1865-1936) but was forced into exile by Bolshevism in 1928, dying in France eight years later. The symphony (one of eight and part of a ninth, so he was yet another composer who never made it into double figures as far as that musical form is concerned) was dedicated to the memory of Liszt, whom he admired and met a couple of years earlier in Weimar. The old Abbé predicted a good future for Glazunov, though ‘all the world will talk about this composer’ was going too far. This symphony owes much to Borodin (his second B minor symphony) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Sheherezade) for it is full of oriental colour and exoticism, as well as Liszt’s habit of taking a motto theme and developing it as fully as possible throughout the work, in this case set out before the listener as a powerful unison statement right at the beginning. The scherzo is fleet-footed syncopated patter (again reminiscent of Borodin No. 2), while the finale goes nowhere to solving the so-called Finale problem, and indeed the composer never really professed himself satisfied with it.

The fillers are less familiar; well what is familiar when it comes to Glazunov, probably his two ballets Raymonda and The Seasons but then possibly only in Russia? The Mazurka is an orchestral dance suite, a poetic interpretation of what is essentially a folk tradition in the style of Glinka in this case, while the fantasy (only six years after Op.18 Glazunov produced this Op.53 so he was nothing if not prolific) is dedicated to Busoni, and has rather complex strands in its contrapuntal structure, and while by no means a ‘modern’ work, yet it does take chromaticism a step along the road to atonality.

Otaka is a splendid conductor; he transformed the BBCNOW into an excellent orchestra of stature way beyond its former provincialism, and they make the most of Glazunov’s colourful music while giving rhythmic style to the Mazurka, and plenty of light and shade to the symphonic poem, especially its mysteriously forbidding start. This disc gives plenty of opportunity to the orchestra’s principal players, and they seize the moment to excel.

Christopher Fifield


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