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Aleksandr Konstatinovich GLAZUNOV (1865 - 1936)
Symphony No. 8, Op. 83 (1906) [40.01]
Cantata on the Centenary of the Birth of Pushkin, Op. 65 (1899) [15.56]
Poème lyrique, Op. 12 (1887) [11.11]
Ludmila Kuznetsova, mezzo; Vsevolod Grivnov, ten
Russian State Symphony Orchestra and Capella/Valeri Polyansky
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français
Parallel translations of Russian texts. Photos of the conductor and composer.
Recorded Grand Hall of the Conservatory, Moscow, Russia, August 2002
CHANDOS CHAN 9961 [67.27]


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Comparison recordings:

Glazunov Symphony #8, Alexander Anissimov, Moscow SO Naxos 8.553660
Glazunov complete Symphonies, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Moscow Large SO LP Urania
Glazunov, Symphony #5, Vladimir Fedoseyev US LP Columbia Masterworks

 

The Glazunov Symphonies have long been the staple of Russian concert programs but have not caught on in the West. There was an integral recording of them by Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the Moscow Radio Large Symphony Orchestra (now renamed the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra) which was available on Urania LP, and from that set #’s 5 & 6 were briefly available in the US on the CBS label. That Fedoseyev Glazunov Fifth Symphony recording is one of the greatest recordings of anything ever made, but unfortunate deterioration of the master tape probably means we’ll never see it on commercial CD (Mark Obert-Thorn, are you listening?). There was another set issued on Orfeo CDs performed by Neemi Järvi and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra which failed to arouse critical or popular interest, although the #1 was pretty good. The Fedoseyev version of the eighth was perplexing, one of the least successful: movements 1 and 2 were performed extremely well, while 3 and 4 were of much lower concentration.

This new set by Valeri Polyansky may well be, from what I have so far heard, overall the best complete set ever and this release of the Eighth Symphony leaves only Nos. 6 and 7 yet to go. Most disks in the series also contain other orchestral and vocal works. His recording of No. 5 compares favourably with the legendary Fedoseyev recording and has much better sound. But we must endure an embarrassment of riches in that Naxos has released a complete Glazunov Symphony series with Alexander Anissimov and the Moscow SO. These are also excellently played and recorded, but the performances tend to be a little tidier and the sound a little less sensual, less extravagant than in the Polyansky recordings. The Anissimov recordings use fewer disks for the complete symphonies, so for a cycle they are doubly more economical.

The Eighth Symphony opens with a broad tune reminiscent of the Saint-Saëns Third Violin Concerto, and, German style or no, at five minutes in we find ourselves in a fugue which shortly strettos back into more typical Glazunov theme-and-repetitions-in-a-new-colour development, rather like the Dvořák Eighth Symphony, with some of the same steadily gathering harmonic drama. The second movement is reminiscent of the Vaughan Williams 6th in its repeated funereal brass chords. It proceeds with sighing phrases and solemn cadences, and is generally considered to be the finest single movement in any of the symphonies containing the darkest most despairing music Glazunov ever wrote. It was essentially complete on paper at the time of the 1905 uprising in Russia. This music is Glazunov’s "Tapiola"; after writing it, Glazunov, like Sibelius, drifted off into an alcoholic haze from which he never emerged. In fact the Tapiola imitation of blowing wind can be heard in the third movement. It is surely no accident that Glazunov’s sobriety and the Russian Romanov Dynasty under which he had been born disappeared at the same time. Glazunov continued to teach, composed a few concertos and minor pieces, eventually leaving Russia for Paris, where he died in 1936.

The program notes point out the uncanny resemblance between the third movement scherzo of the Glazunov Eighth and the rondo of the Elgar Second, underscoring the point made by Vaughan Williams that the "Non-German Style" of English, Russian, etc., composers while not to be considered inferior to German symphonic style, is simply different, an equally valid parallel evolution. Glazunov tends to end his symphonic scherzi very decisively, so that I expect in live performance many in the audience applaud thinking the work is finished. The last movement opens with a solemn chorale which gradually becomes grand and triumphant with the suggestion of flying banners and flocks of doves.

The vocal works are quite interesting as well, full of good tunes and the broad romantic Russian gestures we love in the music of Tchaikovsky, or, more to the point, Prokofiev during his Stalinist period. The solo in the Commemorative Cantata is sung with quivering devotion by Ms. Kuznetsova. The Poem is wistful and very charming, not unlike some of the slow symphony movements, although on a smaller scale.

Have no fear: these recordings, made in Russia, are fully up to Chandos’s customary stratospheric sonic standards. They present this music in the best possible light. As to future SACD or DVD-A release, Chandos aren’t committing themselves.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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