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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons – ballet Op.67 (1900) [33.57]
Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Glazunov
recorded London, 1929
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet Suite No.2 Op.64 (1936) [31.16]
Moscow State Philharmonic Orchestra/Sergei Prokofiev
recorded Moscow, 1943
DUTTON CDBP 9754 [65.18]

It’s good to have these two performances joined in this way. The cachet enjoyed by composer-conducted performances is of course considerable and invites a legion of comment on the subjects of authenticity in all its various considerations. That’s all the more so when, as in the case of Glazunov and Prokofiev, they left behind so few examples of their way with their own music. Prokofiev’s recordings as a pianist are rather better known and his disc recordings can be found on Naxos.

For many years the first port of call for Glazunov’s 1929 recording of the Seasons was a Pearl LP coupled with Konstantin Ivanov’s splendid and much later recording of the First Symphony. It’s still available and is reviewed here.

Dutton has now assumed joined the lists and I shall have a few things to say about the transfer further on.

The producer of the original set was Joe Batten, a pioneer of recording in Britain and one who wrote admiringly of the recording in his autobiography. Glazunov was increasingly frail by this time but the pick-up band did well by him. It doesn’t in fact greatly reflect the endemic London portamento style of the pre-Boult BBC or the pre- Beecham LPO. The strings are warm and quite lithe and the woodwinds are particularly effective and impressive. Whatever his reputation as the alcoholic saboteur who did for Rachmaninov’s First Symphony no less a judge than Nikolai Malko went on record to say that it was invariably valuable to listen to Glazunov’s conducting as indeed, the year before the fiasco of the Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov had recognised his standing as a fine conductor.

All this is borne out by the recording, made in the Portman Rooms in Baker Street in London. The rhythm is wonderfully fluid in Winter’s Hail, the principal flautist makes eloquent work of the Winter Scene (track 2), and there is a happily audible triangle in Spring, itself a testament to Batten and his team. In the Summer Waltz we can feel a real sense of Glazunov’s exuberance and finesse – the two harnessed closely together to their mutual benefit – as well as his infectious control of corporate rhythm. There’s real verve to Autumn’s Bacchanal and the principal clarinet (was it one of the Drapers?) shines throughout, not least in the Summer Variations. The Petit Adagio of Autumn is genuinely moving and has a joyously lyrical urgency to it.

Which brings us to the transfer. The warmth and rounded quality is pleasing, though the concentration on middle frequencies has been at some cost to the upper treble. Dutton gives the strings a warm homogenous sound whereas the earlier Pearl, reflecting the quality of the original 78 set, gave us a slight astringency to the violin sound. The Dutton could easily be mistaken for a post war early LP recording of somewhat dampened sound perspective. It’s an attractive sound and will be welcomed – though I hanker after greater openness.

The Prokofiev is the familiar Op.64b suite of 1936 in his only genuinely conducted recorded performance – rumours are legion and unfounded as to the other so-called Prokofiev-conducted traversals. The last I heard he’d recorded his second Violin Concerto though this is doubtless as unsubstantiated as the other phantoms. The wartime 1943 recording is rather raw and immediate which can vitiate some of the drama but is an inevitable corollary of the original set-up. There’s some minimal residual shellac hiss and noise suppression has dampened it down.

It’s interesting to hear some almost sardonically pervasive string portamenti but one’s main impression is of rhythmic bite and characterisation – such as the waddle of Friar Laurence or the Dance of the Antilles Girls – and it’s well worth getting to know this performance if you’ve not already encountered it. The music is presented with clear-sighted imagination – not objectified but realised with imaginative insight allied to strategic architectural goals. Tempi are not rushed, textual detail – as so often with composer-conductors – frequently elucidated (try Juliet, the little girl) and there is a strong engagement with the visceral emotionalism of the score, though it’s one that is subservient to detail and organisational strength. Prokofiev is at pains to bring out orchestral colour and colouristic strands – brass, piano – and always with immaculate preparation.

The Prokofiev was most recently harnessed to a Ravel-conducted selection on Philips but this Dutton brings geographic alignment to its coupling. Both performances should be in the collections of admirers.

Jonathan Woolf




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