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Rheinhold Moritzovich GLIERE (1875-1956)
Third Sextet for two violins, two violas and two cellos in C Major op.11 (1905) [29:27]
Octet for four violins, two violas and two cellos in D Major op.5 (1900) [25:58]
Laurencius Dinica, Violin; Stephan Schulze, Violin; Walther Kussner, Viola; Wolfgang Talirz, Viola; Christoph Igelbrink, Cello; Mathias Donderer, Cello (both works); Kotowa Machida, Violin; Christoph von der Nahmer (Octet only)
Recorded December 19-21, 2002 at the Andreas Kirche, Berlin

It’s always interesting to trace the line that links composers to one another and Gliere is certainly in place among the greats. His teachers included Taneyev, Arensky and Ippolitov-Ivanov, and, with Arensky we can go back to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. Looking forward Gliere’s students included Khachaturian, Lev Knipper and Boris Lyatoshinsky as well as Myaskovsky, the eleven-year old Prokofiev and Scriabin’s young son.

Gliere’s music is unashamedly romantic in style and this disc shows that he learned a great deal from his teacher Arensky who taught him harmony. There are clear parallels between the two works on this disc and Arensky’s Piano Trio, Op. 32. In common with Arensky and most, if not all, Russian* composers, Gliere draws upon Russian folk melodies, which is an element that makes it easy to identify works as being Russian rather than anything else.

Of Belgian extraction Reyngol’d Moritzevich Gliere was born in Kiev on January 11, 1875. Music was all around him at home since his family were master instrument makers and his father passed on his skills as a player of flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet and other instruments. Gliere’s eldest brother was an excellent cellist and his sister was a pianist, whilst Gliere himself counted the violin as his favourite instrument. Their playing together at home perhaps explains his great love for chamber music, a genre in which he wrote during a period of more than 50 years. It is another of those unexplained things that Gliere’s name is not better known. Apart from a suite from his ballet "The Red Poppy", his Third Symphony subtitled "Ilya Muromets", and his Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, his music has been almost entirely neglected. I am sure, however, that should this disc find the success amongst listeners that it deserves, they will seek out others of his works. These two compositions are beautifully written and left me frustrated that I could not put my hand upon any other works in my collection apart from the three mentioned above.

Gliere’s String Octet was composed in 1900 and, as the liner notes explain, is a rarity; mixed octets are far more common. Spohr, Mendelssohn, Svendsen, Enescu and Shostakovich are the only other well known-composers who wrote for this format. Following its premiere on January 11 (24), 1901, the Russian Musical Gazette wrote "The Octet attracted much public attention and proved a great success. One of the foremost merits of the Octet is its exalted mood, suffusing nearly every bar. Gliere’s music flows smoothly, lightly, and naturally, while at the same time shining with elegant themes and betraying accomplished mastery of the string instruments".

The first movement is steeped in Russian themes and suggestions of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances are interwoven into his own clearly original thoughts. Everything is superbly scored and brought off in brilliant style. The Russian soul is fully displayed in the second movement which runs into the third movement that begins quietly and then builds into a full scale and powerfully passionate declamation before ending in gentle mood as it began. The final movement depicts a Russian festival and is richly layered and colourfully scored to create a musical tapestry that belies the fact that there are only eight instruments playing. The work ends on a triumphant note.

The Sextet of 1905 was Gliere’s third work in this form, and was dedicated to Mitrofan Belyayev, a patron of the arts and a publisher of many of Gliere’s compositions who had died a year before it was written. Though the work is heartfelt throughout Gliere resists mournful sentimentality and, instead, embodies Belyayev’s musical preferences that were expressed at musical gatherings at Belyayev’s home and at the chamber society he founded. Once again powerful themes abound and the six string instruments sound much more than the sum of their parts. Whilst the opening movement is light and optimistic in tone the second goes much deeper emotionally and the layers are laid down in thick, richly coloured harmonies. The core of this movement is a gorgeously heartfelt theme tinged with tragic undertones that once again lay bare the "Russian soul".

The third movement pulls us back from the sounds of sadness into a lively scherzo with echoes of Tchaikovsky. Gliere creates a sound picture of a bustling peasant fair with the violins convincingly passing themselves off as balalaikas, and the movement ends with the fading strains of a songlike theme. The final Allegro Vivace revisits ideas from the opening movement and there are many and varied moods, themes and tempos in it that confirm Gliere’s mastery of counterpoint, harmony and his sheer ability in writing wonderful tunes.

The German music critic Wilhelm Altmann wrote "The Sextet abounds in exalted, fascinating ideas and images that could make a symphony. This is a composition every lover of chamber music should know"… I heartily concur!

*In using the description "Russian" I am aware that Gliere was, strictly speaking, Ukrainian, but I feel Russian is the more widely understood and accurate description for the musical heritage he shared.

Steve Arloff


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