tremendous disc. The fertility of Glazunov's imagination never
fails to astound me, and by the end of the disc Stephen Coombs'
take on this composer had completely won me around too. At first
glance a programme consisting of a sequence of largely salon
miniatures preceding the First Sonata seemed destined not to
work. In the event, nothing could be further from the truth.
dedication to his cause is evidenced by his learned and informative
booklet notes - even if the order in which he discusses the
works does not conform to the actual playing order of the disc
itself. But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, so
it is to the Suite on the name SASCHA ('S' equalling E flat)
that we should turn first. This was the composer's first published
piano composition; it is dedicated to his mother. After some
bold octave statements, the flow of ideas is unstoppable. Coombs'
evident affection for the more lyrical passages is most becoming.
The capricious, almost waltz-like Scherzo - for more on Glazunov
and the Waltz, see later - is pure delight, gorgeously shaded
and lilting along in its own ultra-sweet way. The Nocturne third
movement seems to hold hints of a subterranean tolling bell
- gorgeously warm textures - before the final Valse (a fast
one) reveals that Coombs' fingers have no difficulty in negotiating
the trickiest terrain.
Three Miniatures, Op. 42, comprise a deliciously delicate
Pastorale (reminiscent of a Lisztian Eglogue), a light,
almost Mendelssohnian Polka (all credit to Coombs' touch
here again) and a witty, sweet Waltz. A nice idea to
directly contrast a salon Waltz (that oozes charm) with
a Grande valse de concert, still charming but which grows
in difficulty substantially.
that the SABELA Waltzes seem almost orchestral in conception
at times; and what a contrast to the music-boxy Petite valse!
But it is of course the First Sonata that provides the meat
of this disc. Dedicated to Nadezhda Rimsky-Korsakov (Rimsky's
wife), it was premiered by Siloti, no less. Immediately we are
in a darker world. The lyric melodies sound like a spontaneous
outpouring in Coombs' hands. The Andante sounds perhaps a tad
slow, a touch too prayer-like, in Coombs' hands, but it rises
to an impressive climax before the caught-on-the-wing Allegro
short, a superb disc. The recording (Paul Spicer and Ken Blair)
is crystal clear and yet with body. Recommended, especially
at the price.