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Reinhold GLIERE (1875-1956)
Cello Concerto in D minor op. 81 (1946) [40:34]
Horn Concerto in B flat op. 91 (1950) [24:28]
Quirine Viersen (cello)
Eliz Erkalp (horn)
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Marc Soustrot
rec. Roma Hall, Antwerp, Belgium, June 2006
DOM TALENT DOM 2929 96 [65:11]




This is a CD entirely dedicated to Reinhold Glière, containing performances of two of his greatest works. It is a welcome event, though unusual and perhaps even a little brave. I say this bearing in mind the historical facts surrounding the composer and his conservative compositions, firmly rooted in the classical tradition. They are completely untouched by the modernism that sprang into life at the beginning of the 20th century. Although all of Glière’s most important compositions were written in the twentieth century, his style of work places the music firmly at the end of the nineteenth century Russian romantic tradition. He remained faithful to this tradition all his life. His music was never modern or "un-Russian", which gained him the recognition of Stalin, a fact that would possibly forever mark him unfavourably with audiences to come, particularly outside Russia. It is speculation to say that his enormous body of work has been neglected, and nowadays seldom performed, because of his services, during the Stalin years, as chairman of the organising committee of the Soviet Composer’s Union. This was a political group created to regulate, monitor and, if necessary, "correct" the musical art form, thus ensuring it would be "national in form and socialist in content", as dictated by Stalin. Whether Glière truly supported Stalin and his views or whether his apparent ideology was due to a survival instinct, remains speculative. Essentially, however, Glière was a nineteenth century artist and this is possibly the main reason why he never assimilated modernism. Naturally, this classic romanticism is what his music reflects.

Glière’s body of work is not just great in quantity but also in quality. His compositions are generally skilfully crafted, comfortably romantic but not passionately dramatic. They combine beautiful melodies with often inventive orchestration. Although he is possibly one of the least known Russian composers, his contribution to the development of Russian ballet is generally acknowledged to be as important as that of his more famous predecessor, Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

This CD presents us with two of Glière’s works that perfectly illustrate his elegant style of composition: nostalgic and evocative of the world he was born into and grew up with.

The Cello Concerto is a typical Glière piece, firmly in the classic tradition but with some surprises. The first movement, Allegro, introduces the principal theme with the solo cello, after what sounds like an almost messy beginning by the strings. It is a beautiful melody that gradually develops lyrically, followed a little later by the supporting theme introduced by an oboe. These grow in scale until a totally unexpected new orchestral melody suddenly arrives to leave us wondering where did it all come from. The second movement, Andante, is my personal favourite. It is the one that gives this concerto its Russian character, through the deliberate allusion to the Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor, composed by another of Glière’s famous predecessors, Alexander Borodin (1833-1887). The melody is skilfully used as an underscore to the movement. It beautifully exposes its heartfelt melancholy, its atmospheric, nearly nocturnal characteristics, as suits a truly romantic work. The final movement, Allegro Vivace, is suitably the most vivacious of the three. It is almost cinematic in style, effortlessly taking the listener into a world of sound that could easily be translated into images of a virtuoso dancer executing a complex choreography with grace. This is perhaps revealing of Glière’s excellent understanding of ballet music and gives the concerto a final touch of elegance, to my mind, more obvious than the scornful finale that some critics claim to hear.

Quirine Viersen, the young Dutch cellist, gives a suitably melancholic interpretation of the concerto, delivering an expressive performance, poetic and moving at times, demonstrating a perfect understanding of the romantic musicality of the piece as well as of the instrument’s range. This is generally present throughout the work with equal quality both in the solo parts and in the conversation with the orchestra. This is particularly so in the second movement where the cello’s nostalgic, romantic sound seems to get a life of its own, almost as if telling the listener it feels lonely and needs us to jump in and keep it company.

The second piece on the CD, the Horn Concerto, is rightfully one of Glière’s best known and most acclaimed works. The French horn is not often the subject of a concerto but, with the addition of valves, in the early part of the 19th century, it became a full range solo instrument. While many composers were taken by its range and unique tone and incorporated it more prominently in their compositions, Glière went one step further. Here he captured its full power by composing a concerto for horn and orchestra. He wrote it especially for Valeri Polekh, the solo horn player at the Bolshoi. Polekh was obviously a virtuoso of the instrument, as this concerto is unprecedented in both length and difficulty. It is classically built in three movements: Allegro, Andante and Moderato, and the romantic and Russian elements are again present as in the cello concerto. The first movement is perhaps the most unusual, beginning with an orchestral tutti that eventually brings in the soloist who immediately launches into a bright, singing theme. In fact this singing aspect develops in an unusual, beautiful manner in the second movement, which is very demanding on the player, though it sounds deceptively simple. The sound of the horn gradually grows in a way that resembles a human voice. It is harmoniously supported by the orchestra, developing into a nostalgic aria-like solo, underlined by heartfelt legato phrases. The final movement is thoroughly Glière at his best: lively, with driving romantic energy and echoes of Russian folklore.

Eliz Erkalp does justice to the difficulty of the piece and clearly demonstrates why she holds the position of first French horn soloist with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Her technique is flawless throughout; she plays with virtuosity and beauty, perfectly demonstrated in all three movements but most particularly in the second, which is arguably the most demanding of the three.

The performance of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, under the distinguished, expert leadership of French conductor Marc Soustrot, is excellent throughout the disc and demonstrates their quality and versatility. Suitably supporting the soloists and enhancing the character of the pieces, they deliver the true, gloriously pleasant and comfortably romantic Glière style. They benefit from the fact that this is a SACD Hybrid disc, which when played on a SACD player, gives one a clear, flawless sound, almost as if one was there live, listening to their performance. But it is entirely to their credit as musicians, both orchestra and conductor, and not to the technical advances that one is able to distinguish even the faintest subtleties of the individual instruments while never losing the total, glorious sound of the full orchestra on stage in a concert hall.

Margarida Mota-Bull

And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:-

Tom Janssens' notes for this release stress Gliere's nineteenth century credentials. Listening to these concertos they're rarely in doubt. The music, written after the end of the Second World War when the composer was seventy-one and seventy-five respectively, is pervaded by nostalgia. The lyricism of the Cello Concerto you could cut with a knife. In the first movement allegro there are long unaccompanied sections where the cello trills freely in a way reminiscent of Cant des Ocells by Casals. The romantic curvature of his melodies is resourceful and satisfying. I half caught myself thinking of the Elgar Cello Concerto and of another British work lying a decade in the future yet just as backward looking - and as potent - the Finzi Cello Concerto. In the second movement the scene being set by the confiding orchestra becomes an alluring Borodinesque caprice-song delivered with a full heart by the cello solo. After two movements each exceeding 16 minutes, comes a movement half as long with a vigorous progressive pulse yet with none of the scorch and scathe of the Shostakovich concertos. The Horn Concerto is played with eminent rounded confidence and a portly singing tone. Poise meets Tchaikovsky (3:43, II), Rachmaninov (4:33, I) and even Elgar in this music. Gliere may have sat on various Soviet cultural committees, received state honours and kept the banner flying but none of this is a barrier to his music carrying a potent if rather old-fashioned charge. He has some similarities with Miaskovsky in his nostalgic lyricism although he is not as distinctive.

An essentially old fashioned voice in debt to Tchaikovsky and the Nationalists. None of that is to his discredit. Do not expect originality in his style yet his music is professional and shapely and invites a return visit.

Rob Barnett

 





 


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