Glinka was a self-taught musical dilettante,
though in his time his talents earned him international stature:
Tchaikovsky once described him as 'the acorn from which the oak
of Russian music sprang'. Glinka studied in Italy for three years
from 1830, meeting Bellini and Donizetti, and then moved on to
Berlin for further studies on his way home. As result he was aware
of a wide range of western styles, and became highly skilled in
the techniques of composition.
This generously filled compilation covers the
range of Glinka’s achievement as a composer of orchestral music.
After the removal of his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila from the St
Petersburg repertory after 1842, he turned instead to composing
shorter pieces, particularly for orchestra, which therefore makes
this collection more valid still.
The recordings have been taken from a period
of more than twenty years, although all of them are at least acceptable,
and the more recent ones are much better than that. Svetlanov
was one of the great conductors of recent times, always capable
of producing a vivid performance. His directness and commitment
come across strongly in the two items from the opera Ruslan and
Lyudmila, recorded with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra in the early
1960s. While the sound is not sophisticated the performances are
very direct and exciting, with a strong dynamic range and a rhythmic
bite that suits the music very well.
Svetlanov also makes the most of the colourful
Spanish Overtures that followed Ruslan in the 1840s. If his interpretation
of the first of these, based on the jota aragonesa that also inspired
Liszt’s Rapsodie Espagnol, is somewhat ‘over the top’, the vitality
of the music-making remains compelling. The recorded sound from
the late 1960s is equally colourful, though the perspectives are
rather larger than life. The arrival of the inevitable castanets,
for example, is emphatic in the extreme, though things do settle
down in the later stages.
All Svetlanov’s performances have an authentic
feel, and he has a sure touch also in the slighter pieces such
as the sequence of movements that served as incidental music to
Nikolai Kukolnik’s tragedy Prince Kholmsky. This music benefits
also from the best recorded sound, as it should with the more
recent vintage of 1984.
Congratulations to Regis for the standard of
presentation. Not only is the booklet beautifully presented, clearly
printed and well edited, it has the benefit of excellent and informative
notes by James Murray.