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.
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."
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.
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")
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.
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.
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.