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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Complete Solo Piano Music: vol. 2: Three Etudes, Op. 31 (1891) [11:34]; Two Pieces, Op. 22 (1889) [7:39]; Trois Morceaux, Op. 49 (1894) [9:46]; Nocturne, Op. 37 (1889) [5:38]; Miniature in C (1883) [1:25]; Easy Sonata (1880?) [1:33]; Sonatine (1880?) [1:45]; Two Prelude-Improvisations (1918) [9:52]; Theme and Variations, Op. 72 (1900) [17:57]
Stephen Coombs (piano)
rec. 26-27 February 1995. DDD
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The first volume of this series impressed me greatly (review ) and Volume 2 is just as good.

The inclusion of the Theme and Variations, Op. 72 in this second volume gives the present disc a certain gravitas. The fertility of Glazunov's inspiration that I referred to regarding Volume 1 here blossoms to the full. This is one of his largest-scale works for the solo piano. Coombs' own booklet notes link it with the Sonatas, and rightly so. Over the course of its nearly-18 minutes it explores an enyclopaedia of pianistic textures and flourishes, each one of which Coombs seems to eat up voraciously. Not only that, he melds the variations - on a Finnish folk-song - into a seemingly inevitable whole. The compositional technique throughout is simply masterly and it is impossible to imagine a more stalwart advocate. To top it all, the recording is first-rate. The Steinway is marvellously caught by Paul Spicer and Ken Blair.

The disc begins with the Three Etudes, Op. 31. The first was recorded by Barere. There is a live and a studio recording from this fearsomely talented lion of the keyboard. Coombs treats the first like a Russian Chopin Etude, pedalling quite heavily although there are some glittering scales to compensate. Barere is available on APR6002: the complete 1934-36 HMV recordings on a superb twofer. Barere was recorded exactly sixty years earlier; he takes an astonishing 2:35 against Coombs' 3:10. Yet Barere rarely sounds rushed and has even more fantasy, his strength of character effectively outclassing Coombs by some margin.

Of the three Etudes, the most appealing is perhaps the second, quite fanciful in nature. The recording struck me as too bath-tubby here though. The final effort leaves more space for Glazunov's sense of fantasy.

The Two Pieces of Op. 22 are a Barcarolle and a Novelette, the former extremely delicate and whimsical, the latter dreamy and off-the-cuff. In steadfastly refusing to over-sentimentalise, Coombs affirms the stature of these pieces as salon music of the first order because of their supreme craftsmanship. The Op. 49 Morceaux (Prelude, Caprice-Impromptu and Gavotte) is a lovely set, the Gavotte pure delight. It complements the simply gorgeous Nocturne; again, this could so easily become mush, but does not.

Three miniatures are grouped together, an off-the-cuff Miniature in C, an Easy Sonata that certainly lives up to its name and a more introspective Sonatina. Curiously, the Sonatina is longer than the Sonata, although there is little in it 1:45 against 1:33. The Two Prelude-Improvisations are magnificent creations, and certainly no miniatures. Not emotionally at any rate the fairly brief first is marked 'Lento patetico'. It is superbly inventive in its use of the upper register and complements the very, very mesto and really quite progressive Andante that follows.

Superb, in a word. The two volumes of Glazunov Piano Music should be mandatory purchases for all pianists and all lovers of the Russian Romantics.

Colin Clarke


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