Glazunov: Novelettes, Quartet #5. St.
Petersburg String Quartet Delos 3262
This disk is entitled
"The Fridays" because the
Russian music publisher Belyayev used
to host Friday evening musicales where
these composers and their friends were
invited to play their compositions for
mutual entertainment. In 1899 Belyayev’s
Russian music publishing firm - he had
a branch office in Leipzig to serve
the European market and hence also to
secure European copyrights - published
a collection (entitled "Les Vendredis")
of the original works written for and
premiered at these musicales.
The two selections
of genuine music on this disk are the
Glazunov Novelettes, which rank
among his best works, and the Borodin
Scherzo which ended up in Borodin’s
"unfinished" Third Symphony
thanks to having been orchestrated by
Glazunov. In the case of the Borodin,
the symphonic form is superior, this
quartet version seeming overly long
and of monotonous texture.
By comparison, the
other works are surprisingly vapid;
in spite of the skill and attention
lavished on them by the performers,
it is difficult to remember having heard
them. ... What, even the Rimsky-Korsakov?
Yes, even the Rimsky-Korsakov!
A non-Norwegian such
as myself might need to be informed
that the four names of the quartet members
listed above all refer to persons of
the female gender, this being accomplished
by means of the cover photograph showing
the four women smiling winsomely and
clinking champagne glasses. The photo
sets us in a party mood for listening,
but ennui sets in quickly. You stay
listening to get to the Glazunov which
finishes out the concert with some —
very — real music. The "Novelettes"
are a suite of five pieces for string
quartet in various national styles,
not dissimilar to Couperin’s "Les
Nations," and are very colourful,
inventive, and entertaining.
Comparing this recording
of the Novelettes with that by
the St. Petersburg group, the Norwegians
achieve a more dramatic texture and
more bounce, at times actually suggesting
a peasant dance by Halvorsen or Grieg.
The St. Petersburgers achieve more grace,
more dignity, and more Russian sensualism;
the coupling on that disk is superior,
the Fifth Quartet of Glazunov
is one of his finest works. Both groups
play with exemplary tone, ensemble,
and musicianship, and both receive excellent
recording. But the historical interest
inherent in the "Vendredis"
selections is not negligible, some of
the music being by composers otherwise
not represented on disk. How adventuresome
for adventure’s sake are you?
The Hollywood String
Quartet also did a fine recording of
the Novelettes available on a
monophonic Testament CD. This work by
Glazunov is so good that two recordings
of it in your collection may not be