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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op.55 (1895)
The Seasons, ballet, Op.67 (1900)
Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
Recorded Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, 6-8 Jan 2004, DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61434-2 [70:31]

This modern recording of Glazunov classics is welcome. In the catalogue there are many performances to compare against. There are more than fifteen other recordings of The Seasons but only half a dozen of the Fifth, most of which are modern versions dating from the 1990s. The Naxos recording with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is well respected (coupled with Symphony 8). An earlier Olympia disc, also recorded in Russia with the Ministry of Culture’s fine orchestra is not as acoustically bright. Despite this, its coupling with Symphony 4 is also valuable and well thought of. (Both are given three stars in the Penguin Guide.)

This Warner recording certainly has a lot to commend it. Despite the absence of any Russian input, the score has been read with keen attention to detail by both conductor and orchestra.

In the Fifth Symphony an interesting warmth from the violas and cellos prevails in the first movement. The trumpets and horns blend nicely as the first movement gathers momentum before the graceful woodwind section starts. Glazunov seems to have been influenced by the German school in the use of horns and woodwind in the early movements.

The lively second movement has fine atmosphere with the piccolo/flute and pizzicato strings adding a magical touch. The opening of the third movement gives that feeling of mystery that is not as mechanically portrayed as in the MoC Russian recording with Rozhdestvensky; instead a dreamy elegance pervades the movement. Serebrier lengthens the phrasing to good effect.

The military splendour of the last movement expends considerable energy and pomp. The notes tell us that ‘this energetic rondo recalls Borodin’s rough epic manner, but which is transformed by Glazunov into an epitome of a grand Russian style’. The charm of this score is certainly brought out by this competent conductor.

The Seasons is set against considerable competition from other labels. I continue to enjoy my Järvi version with the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos, coupled with Concerto for violin and orchestra, Op.82) even though its 1988 performance might now be considered by others as ‘slightly dated’.

Again, I detect an overall sensitivity in the playing that is very appealing. In this recording, Spring runs into Summer (which is not always the case) giving an abrupt start to tr.12, Summer’s opening. Only if listening on a track-by-track basis will the clipped start be of any concern, but this is quickly overlooked when one settles into the majesty of the movement. In the coda of Summer, the syncopated horn chords are more evenly spaced than those found in the Järvi performance, yet the whistling strings tend to be over-recessed. Perhaps the best known part of the score is the opening movement of Autumn (tr.17) where the first strings and piccolo carry the theme and need to be forward placed. Here the impact may not be as vibrant as the heavy Järvi version because the timpani are not as prominent, but for me the strings are right and my enjoyment is not muted.

The notes are written in English, French and German and carry more detail than some of those found elsewhere.

The clear recording and slightly reverberant surroundings are ideal for maximising the textures and appeal of these works and make them worthy of consideration as benchmark recordings.

Raymond Walker

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