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Alexander Konstantinovich GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 5 (1881-82) [34í48"]
Symphony No. 6 in C minor, Op. 58, (1896)* [37í27"]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
Rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales 8 December 1997 and *22 January 1998
BIS CD-1368 [72í53"]

These recordings have been "in the can" for some time and Iím not sure why their issue has been so long delayed. They were made just after Tadaaki Otaka ended his very successful tenure as principal conductor of the BBC NoW (1987-1996) and demonstrate amply the fine job he had done with these players.

Glazunovís First Symphony is an astonishing work. To be sure, it has its shortcomings and is rather naïve in many ways. However, one must remember that it was the work of a schoolboy who was just 17 years old when it had its first performance, under Balakirev, no less. The music, no less than the age of its composer, caused a contemporary sensation and itís not hard to see why. The symphony may break no new musical ground but it is consistently engaging and fresh. As the author of the liner notes observes, it is distinguished by a "bright pastoral atmosphere."

The piece is scarcely a repertoire work, at least outside Russia, and I wonder how familiar the Welsh orchestra was with the score. They sound thoroughly at home with it. Indeed, I suspect they relished the novelty of playing this outgoing score. They give a buoyant, colourful account of the first movement and the sturdy, rustic scherzo also comes off well. Otaka obtains some fine work from the string section in the expressive Adagio, which is placed third. This, like the finale, is based in part on Polish folk tunes. I liked the touch of Slavic vibrato to the horn solo in this movement (track 3, 2í39"), which adds an authentic atmospheric touch. The extrovert finale is, I think, the weakest movement, culminating in a rather take-it-or-leave-it ending, which rather sounds as if the composer had run out of steam. The performance here is suitably bright and breezy but in saying that I wouldnít wish to imply that the more delicate passages are not attentively played, for that is not the case. All in all, Otaka and his players make out a good case for this apprentice piece.

The composer was 31 by the time his Sixth Symphony appeared and, as the opus number indicates, he had a considerable number of works under his belt by then. As compared with the First Symphony this additional experience shows in a greater consistency of argument and more confidence in handling formal structures. The extra maturity is immediately evident in the brooding slow introduction to the first movement. When the main allegro arrives it proceeds with a vigorous stride. Glazunov also handles his orchestra with a much greater assurance. Particularly ear-catching is the lovely violin melody (track 5, 4í07")

The slow movement takes the form of a theme and seven variations. The theme is a simple open-hearted melody, which lends itself readily to variation treatment. The variations themselves, none of which is particularly long, form an effective and contrasted set. The author of the notes avers that the main material of the scherzo has "the manner of a gallant, aristocratic dance." The trio is a quicksilver episode, which has a very balletic feel. The whole is a delightful piece, which is very well done here. To quote the notes again, the colourful finale is "clearly reminiscent of festive processions." As with the companion symphony I felt that this was the least convincing movement but this Welsh performance abounds in conviction.

The BIS engineers have provided a fine recording, which is clear and truthful. The accompanying notes are informative and donít duck the question of Glazunovís compositional deficiencies. The only slight blot on the release is the cover design, which I find hideous and Iím at a loss to discern its connection with the music.

I donít know if this is the start of a complete cycle of Glazunov symphonies, though that would be the BIS way. There are rival cycles in progress from Naxos and Chandos though neither couple these symphonies. This may mean that some collectors are faced with duplication. However, the present issue is well worth consideration. Glazunovís symphonies may not be out and out masterpieces but these two are very enjoyable and are well served by this release. Recommended

John Quinn

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