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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Orchestral works
see end of review for details
Olga Lutsiv-Ternovskaya (soprano); Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo); Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor); Dmitri Stepanovich (bass); Russian State Symphonic Cappella; Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky (CDs 1-5, 7)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka (CD6); London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt (CD6)
rec. Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, 1999 (CD1); 1997 (CD2); 2000 (CD3); 1999 (CD4); 2002 (CD5); 2000/2002 (CD7); Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, February 1998. Symphony 7. (CD6)
Originally issued: Chandos (CDs 1-5, 7); Bis (Symphony 7); ASV (Raymonda Suite).
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93565 [7 CDs: 455.08]
Experience Classicsonline

We too easily forget Glazunov's world-wide success. His symphonies in particular had repeated performances during the 1890s and 1900s in the USA and especially in the UK. Glazunov himself travelled widely as conductor. Sir Henry Wood in London was a strong advocate and a staggering number of multiple performances were programmed by Sir Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth. Gradually in the 1960s through the export of various Melodiya performances Glazunov's star began to rise from the comparative abyss into which it had sunk during the period 1920-1970. Ivanov and Fedoseyev had LPs issued in the UK via EMI. Later a reputedly very fine set - reckoned by the Glazunov Society to be the reference set and sadly unheard by me - was recorded by Evgeny Svetlanov. These were issued on Melodiya CDs during the early 1990s. Regrettably they seem to have disappeared although there are rumours that Svetlanov’s Estate will be reissuing them soon. The Rozhdestvensky set on Olympia – now long-deleted - is well worth hearing but the level of aural refinement is not a patch on the present recordings. The pity is that there is no sign of Fedoseyev's Eurodisc LP set re-surfacing.
Brilliant Classics - an imprint of Joan Records - are licensees par excellence but it is worth remembering that large swathes of their Brahms, Mozart and Bach projects are original sessions. Recently however they have been intensely busy with increasing their catalogue by leaps and bounds from the catalogues of other labels, keeping prices down and quality high. Presentation might suffer from time to time but the music does not. In fact the present 7 CD box is well done with its design choices turning out well rather than clunky. The sleeve has a stark white background against which is set a dark branch-skeletal tree and with the name of the composer and the works in matte purple. The contrast will draw the eye of browser to this wallet style box. Each CD sleeve housed in the wallet box is made of stiff card with detailed track information on the reverse.
The set is built around Polyansky's Chandos Glazunov project. One disc has to break away from this simply because Polyansky never recorded the Seventh Symphony; not sure why. Instead the Seventh is represented by a BIS contribution from Tadaaki Otaka and the BBC Welsh. We also have Yondani Butt's Raymonda suite from ASV. The Bis is from Otaka's complete Glazunov symphonies. The Butt is from the aborted symphony cycle on ASV Sanctuary. He got as far as various orchestral poems and the symphonies 3-5 but little else.
Several of the Polyanskys have been reviewed here and I have incorporated my reviews, with revisions, into the present write-up (see end of review for original reviews).
The first disc gives us his 1881 First Symphony - the work of a sixteen year old prodigy. The premiere was conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov who is credited with having given a strong guiding hand to the young composer. His style that of Balakirev is felt throughout. Glazunov was a fine colourist as his ballet The Seasons testifies. He had a special sympathy with the Kouchka and his dazzling completion of the Borodin 3rd Symphony is a far more accomplished work than some rather sniffy commentators infer. As for the First Symphony the present performance makes for it one of the most successful arguments I have heard. The tempo is usually on the broad side as is often the case with Polyansky. Rozhdestvensky on Olympia has more vibrant pizzazz but the Russian melancholy is better conveyed here. The recording is the last word in refinement.
The Violin Concerto is probably the market leader. Certainly it is close to the top of the league and here it is more sympathetically coupled than many. The dancing horns of the opening bars did not at first seem to bode well. They were set so far back by comparison with other favourites. However the moment Juliet Krasko's deft and succulent-toned playing entered the proceedings the impression changes. This is a most vibrant and successful performance. There were times, especially during the flaming finale, where Krasko appears to be goading the orchestra into a new access of excitement. Orchestra and conductor seem to be bucked and jolted along. The result sets the pulse racing without destroying the poetry of this lovely piece relegated by ignorance to the ranks of the second or third league concertos. Chandos also have another version of the work in their catalogue in which the aristocratic Oscar Shumsky is the soloist joining Neeme Järvi conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on CHAN8596. The coupling is The Seasons.
This Second Symphony gives the lie to my criticisms of Polyansky's Glazunov. While he has produced some top-flight Rachmaninov and Taneyev his Glazunov 4 and 5 suffer from being under-energised. The Second is an intensely melancholic-poetic work but has some explosive and excitingly vigorous music-making as well. The Allegro Vivace is rather eldritch Tchaikovskian as in the grand guignol of Nutcracker and the fairy waterfall scene in Manfred. The finale yearns towards Borodin and toys with balletic delicacy. The performance benefits from distinctive Soviet style warble of the French horns. The finale is gripping; probably the best recorded Glazunov Second ever. The symphony is dedicated to the memory of Liszt.
The seven-section Coronation Cantata was written for the coronation of Nicholas II in May 1896. A glowing and rounded fervour lights up its pages. The sung words are not reprinted in the booklet nor are they translated. No doubt they were in the Chandos original issue. There are separate movements from the points of the compass. and a further movement each for Heaven and Earth, The Prayer and the Finale. Kuznetsova sings without undue vibrato but Stepanovich is a suitably oaken bass if not of the sternest when it come to sustaining a note. The bird-like tone of Lutsiv-Ternovskaya and the return of Kuznetsova is heard in the duet in the East and West movement. Much of the writing in the central sections has a sweetly honeyed undulation. Grivnov takes the burden of The Prayer and makes it ring with his faintly abrasive but pleasant voice. Heaven and Earth is alive with swirling woodwind and harps and exalted writing for the solo quartet. There's more vocal-operatic display here than I would have expected from a Coronation Cantata. The finale returns to form with jolly choral writing from the choir. This work is pleasing to have rather than being totally compelling.
Rising mastery is proclaimed by Glazunov's Third Symphony which in the long first movement tracks through a trademark fast chanting underpin and then rises to grandeur. This yet again affirms the lively qualities of the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. A flashing and flittering Vivace comes next - always a delight in Glazunov's hands; he was good at them. There is some lovely curvetting woodwind. This is a big-boned symphony rather like its predecessor. It can succumb to power-shortage and Polyansky does play into this at times though overall the reading is strong. Sturdy playing from scorching brass and high-singing strings brings the proceedings to a stentorian end in the echoing spaces of the Grand Hall. The symphony is dedicated to Tchaikovsky.
The two big Concert waltzes are of overture length and are well enough known. They are leisurely and a shade smug. Each is nicely done with a serenading suaveness to the fore. As David Moncur writes in his useful notes these two waltzes pave the way for his ballets Raymonda and The Seasons. This is certainly true of the leisurely scene-painting that smiles its way benevolently through the second of the pair.
The Fourth is, unusually for Glazunov, in only three movements. The first of these has a fine rangy oriental romance blended with Tchaikovskian delirium. Indeed Tchaikovsky is often a presence here. The second movement is a buzzing and dancing scherzo where icy woodwind chatter in carefree delight. The speed is so fast that I thought that co-ordination slipped in the first couple of moments. These doubts were soon banished as the balletic music self-kindled in joyous celebration worthy of Glazunov's most popular ballet score The Seasons. The finale's trampling Cossack charge is all excitement and grandeur. The brass echo-effects - horns to trumpets - are truly exhilarating.
The Fifth Symphony is one of Glazunov's most popular symphonies. It has catchy themes and is amongst the most dramatic of the Eight. In Polyansky's hands however the broad approach sometimes teeters over the edge into torpor. This is noticeable in the first movement and somewhat in the fourth and final movement. At these points the performance would have benefited from a more taut and snappy direction. Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony is a clear influence with its admixture of ballet and drama. The second movement is again balletic resorting to flashy display which conveys sincerity and is not at all meretricious. The big romantic theme may well have inspired Prokofiev's Classical Symphony (1914); listen carefully you may be surprised. The delicate emotional pastels of the Andante are glowingly done. The finale's ‘Russian Easter Festival’ is as explosive as Tchaikovsky 4 but here is taken with a rather broader pacing. It could have taken more accelerator. That said the lightning flashes and the thunder crashes in a contest in which richly Rimskian darkness meets Tchaikovsky's emotional fever. Another familiar voice (at 2:33) is Rachmaninov's First Symphony - the disastrous premiere of which was presided over by Glazunov. In the finale Polyansky recaptures much of the work’s innate nervy invigoration.
Polyansky's reading of the mature Sixth Symphony confirms its epic qualities. A rounded theme heavy with Russian Orthodox overtones is instantly a presence in the first movement with its louring storm clouds. The Theme and Variations is peaceful interlude perhaps in parts prefiguring Elgar's Enigma in its gentler riverside moments. Its Intermezzo Allegretto has some of the typical scherzo qualities of the standard Glazunov scherzo. The finale’s heavy emphatic quality is accentuated by a ponderous lumber although one can see where Rachmaninov might have drawn some of the inspiration for his finale of his First Symphony; the one supposedly done to death by Glazunov's conducting. Its a grand finale with something in common with the Glazunov Eighth and Brahms First and Fourth.
The balletic early Characteristic Suite is full of well-drawn vignettes. It was written between the first two symphonies. The music is lightly Tchaikovskian with a magically hushed Pastorale and Elegie which recall Balakirev and Borodin. The Danse Orientale is very nicely exotic with puttering side-drum, sinuous woodwind and a whirling bustle suggestive of the casbah. It helped establishing an idiom soon to be taken up by Hollywood: think of Rózsa and Herrmann. A regal and slightly bombastic Cortege rounds things to a conclusion. None of it is exactly compelling but there is pleasant invention here.
When it comes to the Seventh Symphony, occasionally known as The Pastoral, the overarching tempo is slow. Otaka's clear-eyed and carefully controlled view works much better in this context. The music sings along in contemplation of rural scenes. Time and again the pastoral image shared with Beethoven's Sixth comes home with strength. The BBC Welsh are an extraordinary orchestra but I thought their wind section less than brilliant at the start of the scherzo. The highlight is the bustling and bubbling Allegro Maestoso. Otaka lets fly with lovely avian song effects and joie de vivre. A sturdy and finally brilliant finale in its tramping scathing brass fleetingly recalls Tchaikobsky's Francesca. He puts that voice aside at the last to return to his most sturdy and grandiloquently imperial manner à la Sixth Symphony.
Yondani Butt did great work for ASV amid the music of the Russian nationalist school. He can be heard extensively in Brilliant's Rimsky Korsakov box alongside the truly gifted Tjeknavorian. In the seven movements from the large-scale Raymonda he essays, without the final sweep of a Tchaikovsky, the grand balletic Bolshoi manner. Like the Characteristic Suite this is pleasing rather than completely compelling although overall it holds the attention much better. I really enjoyed the trembling trumpet solo of the Scene - Entrée de Raymonda and the medieval Chatelaine evocation conjured by the harp-led Romanesca and Prelude - Variations (trs. 8, 9); lovely stuff. The sidling insidious Valse Fantastique brings this sequence to a florally-flavoured swaying close.
The big Eighth Symphony was to be his last. Unless you can find the Olympia Rozhdestvensky cycle of Glazunov symphonies which included the Ninth in Gavriil Yudin's completion you will look for this in vain although there may be a Naxos Ninth. The Eighth is a big-boned symphony rather akin to the Sixth. In four movements, it is dark, louring and heavy with the threat of those Revolutionary times when insurrection was in the air. The Mesto seems an early precursor to the Shostakovich slow movements. A slightly manic Allegro is interspersed with swooningly romantic asides (1:32). The pomp of the finale has some genuinely inspired and inspiring music. This is contrasted with poetic moments comparable with Elgar's more contemplative music in the First Symphony and in Enigma, both predating this work. The finale is a jamboree of sturdy sovereign celebration written as if to mark a grand state occasion. Polyansky is excellent in this.
The Commemorative Cantata (for the centenary of the birth of Pushkin) is about 16 minutes in length. A companion to the Coronation Cantata, it is satisfying that these two works have at last been recorded. The Pushkin is, unsurprisingly given its inspiration, a far more poetic and enthralling work than the Coronation piece - itself no slouch. However here the composer is obviously gripped by his great lyrical subject with a heaven-striding melody for the choir in the opening Allegro. Kuznetsova sings with great sensitivity in the Berceuse in a glorious spring-like cantilena. This carries over to the chillier Moderato which includes woodwind writing recalling the gusts and gales of The Seasons - itself a glaring omission from this cycle. Vsevolod Grivnov is on lean and lyrical form for his Aria - the penultimate section sometimes sounding passingly like Sanctus Fortis from Gerontius. The final hymn has both Grivnov and Kuznetsova in honeyed cantabile duet leading into the choir which here and elsewhere sounds positively Scandinavian in its sensibility. This is vintage and sensationally fine Glazunov and should be very much better known.
Fittingly, after the Pushkin, comes Polyansky's version of the Poème Lyrique - placid and gentle of demeanour with a Tchaikovskian aftertaste (1.23). It is as close as Glazunov got to a Delian tone poem and was well chosen to follow the magnificent Pushkin cantata.
This is an often joyous set and for the small outlay an astonishing bargain to encourage your experimenting with Glazunov.
Rob Barnett

see also reviews of the original Chandos or BIS releases of CD1, CD4, CD6 and CD7

Note. Readers may also like to look at Polyansky’s recording of Glazunov’s extended score for The King of the Jews (1913) again on Chandos (see review)
Detailed List of Contents
CD 1 [59:10]
Symphony No. 1 in E major Op. 5 “Slavyanskaya” (1881) [37:26]
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82 (1904) [21:36]
Julia Krasko (violin)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CD 2 [72:59]
Symphony No. 2 in F sharp minor Op. 16 (1886) [46:05]
Coronation Cantata, Op. 56 (1896) [26:37] (Introduction & Chorus [3:34]; The South [3:31]; The North [2:13]; East and West [4:19]; A Prayer [2:46]; Heaven and Earth [6:48]; Finale [3:23])
Olga Lutsiv-Ternovskaya (soprano); Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo); Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor); Dmitri Stepanovich (bass)
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CD 3 [65:55]
Symphony No. 3 in D major Op. 33 (1892) [46:51]
Concert Waltz No. 1 in D major Op. 47 (1894) [9:11]
Concert Waltz No. 2 in F major Op. 51 (1895) [9:21]
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CD 4 [67:08]
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major Op. 48 (1893) [32:13]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major Op. 55 (1895) [28:37]
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CD 5 [67:19]
Symphony No. 6 in C minor Op. 58 (1896) [34:26]
Characteristic Suite in D major Op. 9 (1887) [32:18] (Introduction, andante [4:25]; Intermezzo, scherzando moderato [6:44]; Carnaval, presto [4:36]; Pastorale, moderato [4:58]; Danse orientale, allegro [4:05]; Élégie, adagio [4:36]; Cortège, alla marcia-maestoso [3:10])
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CD 6 [55:10]
Symphony No. 7 in F major Op. 77 (1902) [43:45]
Raymonda, Ballet Suite Op. 57a (1898) [21:04] (Introduction-scene [5:44]; La Traditore [1:39]; Scene-Entrée de Raymonda [3:10]; Prélude et la Romanesca [2:02]; Prélude et Variation [1:10]; Entr’acte [3:13]; Valse fantastique [4:07])
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka (7)
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
CD 7 [67:27]
Symphony No.8 in E flat major op.83 (1905) [39:59]
Commemorative Cantata for the Centenary of the Birth of Pushkin, Op. 65 (1899) [15:52]
Poème Lyrique, in D flat major Op. 12 (1887) [11:11]
Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo); Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor)
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky


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