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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1935)
Ballade Op.78 (1902) [9.35]
Symphony No.3 Op.33 (1888-1890) [50.15]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
recorded in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales on 17/18 May 1998 and 4 March 1999
BIS-CD-1358 [60.23]


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It's not quite 'proper' to approve of Glazunov, especially as he could have gone so far down the road of modernism during his thirty years in the twentieth century. How chalk and cheese he is compared to Stravinsky, but Rachmaninov overtook him in the popularity stakes. Tchaikovsky had praised Glazunov, 'his talent is undeniable', and took a keen interest in this third symphony; indeed their friendship endured from their first encounter in October 1884 right until four days before the older composer's death in 1893. At the time of this third symphony Glazunov was doing all he could to break free from the influence of the so-called Mighty Handful, the five nationalist composers Borodin, Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky, though to judge by its scherzo, a vivaciously whizzing movement reminiscent of Bordin's second symphony, he did not quite succeed. Then of course there is the lyricism of Tchaikovsky in the pathos-laden slow third movement with its Tristan-like, if belated, tribute to Wagner who had died the year before. The outer movements do not really hold a candle to these two inner ones, particularly the rather prosaic finale, but Glazunov is a tunesmith of quality. I am not at all certain that Tchaikovsky's advice that his most significant weaknesses were 'some longevities and the lack of pauses' was justified.

True there is a distinct feeling that the Ballade is no more than a filler here, despite the effort put into it by conductor and players. The later date of its composition (1902) should imply a maturer result, which is not quite what transpires in a work which meanders and finally runs out of steam despite some vigorous fanfares on the way.

Playing throughout the disc is exemplary, the recording quality bright and full in the rich acoustics of the Swansea-located hall. Otaka's exploration of these symphonies (No.2 is on BIS-CD-1308) is a worthwhile exercise, despite serious competition from the likes of Järvi and Polyansky on Chandos. It seems that the great Hans Richter was justified in taking up the Glazunov cause a century ago, but would that he had left a recording or two as a marker.

Christopher Fifield



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