were recognised early by famous and
influential men. Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov
arranged for his First Symphony to be
performed in 1881, when Glazunov was
a mere sixteen-year-old, and Franz Liszt
presented the piece in Weimar later
that same year.
Given such a start,
it is hardly surprising that Glazunov
developed into a leading figure in Russian
musical life, especially in the years
before the Revolution. In 1899 he was
appointed Professor of Composition at
the St Petersburg Conservatory, and
six years later he was elevated to the
position of Director.
Glazunov composed the
Symphony No. 4 during 1893. The
style is clearly Russian in character,
with a special fusion that allows the
folksong idiom of Russian nationalism
to be blended with the epic proportions
of the post-Beethoven romantic symphony.
The structure is rather unusual, since
there are three movements which are
closely unified, though they contain
a wide degree of contrast along with
a fluent musical development.
to bring a new dimension to his symphonic
writing with this work: 'The orchestration
should not be noticeable in itself but
should still be sonorous, as in the
case of an ideal piano under the hands
of an ideal pianist, which should clearly
display the intentions of its composition.'
In other words, musical argument should
be more important than local colour
or virtuoso technique. Tadaaki Otaka
takes Glazunov at his word, and with
skilful playing and nicely ambient sound
the music does have that purposeful
symphonic line that the composer sought.
In Symphony No. 4 the
strong sense of focus extends also to
the quality of the orchestral sound.
For this all credit to both the orchestra
and the producer, Mike George. There
are also some strongly characterized
and distinctively Russian themes in
the work, and these are beautifully
moulded by Tadaaki Otaka and sensitively
played whenever solo roles are taken.
The woodwinds, in particular, show what
a fine orchestra this is. There could
be no better introduction to Glazunov’s
symphonic world than this.
The Symphony No.
8, written over a four year period
to 1906, is somewhat less characterful,
though it is still a strong example
of a well written Russian romantic symphony.
The fact that its composition engaged
Glazunov for so long reflects upon the
nature of the work, since it is a large
and complex construction which confirms
the nature and the manner of his symphonic
priorities. Those who admire, say, the
Second Symphony of Rachmaninov, will
find much to enjoy here.
Otaka and his orchestra
undoubtedly have the measure of the
opening Allegro moderato, in
which the music ranges from lyricism
to heroism, but with a well argued symphonic
logic. Next, the slow movement is given
the unequivocal description, Mesto
(Sad). This is music of tragedy
and pathos, and in this carefully moulded
performance the forebodings brought
by the repetitions of the fate motif
release a funereal procession. The music
moves to an intense climax, Tchaikovskian
in both style and delivery. While there
is a magnificent breadth of symphonic
development, this music might benefit
most from the rich textures of an old-style
Russian orchestral performance (though
Russian orchestras sound less ‘Russian’
today than used to be the case).
The Allegro third
movement rushes like the wind, with
short, dramatic and dance-like phrases
which lead into a mysterious, atmospheric
response. The tensions thus created
in this virtuoso movement are resolved
in the finale, which makes use of material
from across all the earlier movements.
But there are new ideas also, and this
potent mix builds to a peroration, perhaps
not entirely convincing in terms of
symphonic power, but certainly grandiose.