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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Orchestral Works Volume 17

Triumphal March, Op. 40 (1892)
Serenade No.1 Op. 7 (1883)
Overture No. 1 on Three Greek Themes, Op. 3 (1881-1884)
Serenade No. 2 Op. 11 (1884)
Overture No. 2 on Three Greek Themes, Op.6 (circa.1884)
Chopiniana Op. 46 (1892)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Ziva
Recorded at Mosfilm Studios Moscow, Russia, Feb. 2000 DDD
NAXOS 8.555048 [70:33]

A precocious student of Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov was probably the last of the established composers from the Russian 19th century School. His music which continued the tradition of Tchaikovsky quickly became unfashionable and out of step with the progressive musical developments from composers such as Stravinsky, Richard Strauss and his pupil Prokofiev. Viewed a century or so later Glazunov’s style is no longer a barrier to a fuller appreciation of his music.

The Triumphal March which has an optional choral part, comes across as an unlikely fusion of late-romantic Russian and the quirky American Charles Ives. Composed for the Chicago Exhibition in the USA, the work includes the popular song ’John Brown’s body’ Glazunov provides lots of employment for the brass and percussion sections, sounding like closing scene from a ballet score.

The two short Serenades are appealing orchestral scores which use pseudo-oriental melodies in a manner that was fashionable at the time and used by his compatriots Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev.

It is a shame that the two substantial Overtures on Three Greek Themes are not better known. Either of the two works would make a welcome change to commence an orchestral concert, instead of the more usual overtures from Rossini and Mozart et al.

Not dissimilar to the two Serenades there is a contrived aroma of the middle-eastern exotic blended together with much use of the woodwind, brass and percussion; which is so typical of Glazunov’s writing.

It is generally agreed that the best of Glazunov’s music is to be found in his ballets. Raymonda and The Seasons are clearly the most popular but Les ruses d’Amour and the orchestral ballet suite Scènes de ballet deserve to be heard more. The orchestral suite Chopiniana, which Glazunov later fashioned in the ballet Chopiniana (more popularly known as Les Sylphides in European ballet circles) was selected, arranged and orchestrated from Chopin piano works.

Chopiniana displays Glazunov’s brilliance at orchestration and conductor Vladimir Ziva effortlessly and and with accomplishment brings out the wide range of colours and blends together the movements with a continuity that has been so often lacking in alternative versions. For some years I have been playing the eminent recording of the suite played by the USSR Symphony Orchestra, under Evgeny Svetlanov, on BMG/Melodiya 74321 59055-2. Maybe not as polished as the Melodiya release I feel that this Naxos recording is played with more vigour and excitement and gets further inside the spirit of the music.

Throughout the disc the Russian Symphony Orchestra play with immediacy and an abundance of passion, offering a genuine empathy for the music of their fellow-countryman. Especially fine is the expressive and well-tuned woodwind which immediately attracted my attention in these wonderfully late-romantic Glazunov works.

Perhaps a touch more rehearsal time may have improved one or two rough edges but the numerous plus-points certainly outweigh in a sterling performance. I love the way Maestro Ziva builds and achieves the many exciting orchestral climaxes in the scores with a real control.

The Naxos sound engineers have produced a warm and clear recording with a lovely balance.

Russian music passionately played with boundless energy and bristling with character. A most convincing recording which would be my top recommendation even at full-price.

Michael Cookson

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