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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
CD 1
Raymonda - Ballet in Three Acts, Op. 57 (1897) [66:58]
Act I
CD 2
Raymonda - Ballet in Three Acts, Op. 57 (1897) [69:10]
Act II
Act III
CD 3
The Seasons, ballet in four pictures, Op. 67 (1899) [41:09]
Ballet Suite for large orchestra, Op. 52 (1894) [32:05]
CD 4
Romantic Intermezzo for large orchestra Op. 69 (1900) [10:34]
Solemn Overture for large symphony orchestra Op. 73 (1900) [10:56]
March on Russian Theme Op. 76 (1901) [5:19]
Ballade for large symphony orchestra Op. 78 (1902) [11:35]
From the Middle Ages, symphonic suite Op. 79 (1902) [26:21]
Fortune-Telling and Dance, ballet scene Op. 81 (1904) [9:31]
CD 5
Song of Fate, dramatic overture Op. 84 (1908) [14:38]
Two Preludes Op. 85 (1906) ; To the Memory of V. Stasov [6:02]; To the Memory of N. Rimsky-Korsakov [11:16]
To the Memory of N. Gogol, symphonic prologue Op. 87 (1909) [10:31]
Finnish Fantasia in C major Op. 88 (1909) [12:25]
Finnish Sketches, Op. 89 (1912); No. 1 From "Kalevala" [5:21] No. 2 Procession [4:34]
CD 6
Introduction and Salome"s Dance to Oscar Wilde"s drama "Salome" Op. 90 (1908) [16:15]
Solemn procession in B flat major Op. 91 (1910) [3:18]
Theme with Variations for Spring in G minor Op.97 (1918) [11:32]
Karelian Legend, Musical picture Op. 99 (1916) [21:35]
No ensembles or orchestras or only general dates [1961-90] noted [however; Bolshoi Theatre
Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov, rec. Moscow 1961 (Raymonda)]
SVET 33-41/16 [6 CDs: 66:58 + 69:10 + 73:14 + 74:21 + 64:47 + 52:41]

Experience Classicsonline

 

 

As with other SVET boxes this one comes armed without some essential information. Which orchestras are being conducted and is there anything new and unexpected here? The short answers in the main are; the USSR Symphony – though Raymonda is with the Bolshoi – and no. These are commercial Melodiyas.

I’ve written about the Raymonda recording elsewhere in its Melodiya guise so a reprise is in order. Armed with the sweeping strings and beefy Bolshoi brass, and with three excellent principals, this orchestra is a natural for this score - preferable to the USSR State. And Svetlanov doesn't mess about -Act I's Page scene is full of bold gestures and powerful striving brass. Listen too the narrative unfolding of the Countess's Story and its winding wind passages, so aptly descriptive here. The Bolshoi's trumpet principal was Oleg Usach and his brassy, hugely vibrated sound can be heard in the Act I Dance scene. There's also a delightful lilt and lift in the Grand Waltz and an incremental power in the Mime Scene - but what sheen and delicacy in its early stages. Here as elsewhere details are splendidly controlled by Svetlanov and there Is no sense of grandiloquence for its own sake or the feeling that he and the orchestra are turning these little movements into mere orchestral playthings.

Harpist Vera Dulova imparts some rippling virtuosity, bardic feel and, not least, romance in the Prelude and Romanesca. A real standout is the Entr'acte between scenes seven and eight where the gravity and warmth of the writing is crowned by a shattering climax dominated by Usach's blisteringly braying trumpet. It's not pretty - but it is exciting. The Bolshoi's leader was Sergei Kalinovsky and his eloquent playing in the Grand Adagio is suitably memorable. So too is the way in which Svetlanov brings out the counter-themes in Scene VIII's Coda - vital and fulsome.

Svetlanov's ear for rhythmic buoyancy - never gabbled or over stressed - pays rich dividends in Act II's Fourth variation, the one for Raymonda. And still he seldom misses a trick - note the wittily phrased Entrance of the Jugglers and the intense and exciting Bacchanal. The floridity of the Arrival of the Knight and King is resplendent here and for pompous nobility Svetlanov takes some beating in Act III's Entrance scene. It was a Glazunovian coup, richly exploited by the conductor here, to follow it with the touching and delicate Classical Hungarian Dance.

As these more delicate and refined moments show, Svetlanov is alert to the Gallicisms inherent in the score as indeed he is to the more grandiloquent Borodin-derived ones as well. He strikes a fine balance, literally and figuratively, between the two. The 1961 sound is certainly serviceable though it has its raw moments. Raymonda occupies two discs of the six.

One great work is followed by another, The Seasons. The hail variations in Winter is dashingly presented whilst Summer is relished with lashings of Glazunovian colour and allure. Autumn could have been written for Svetlanov. Its sweep and taut, vibrant, warmly sprung emotionalism brings out the very best in him. He prepares for the great theme with superb tension and vitality. The Op. 52 Ballet Suite is lesser Glazunov but still diverting in its melodic avuncularity. The fourth disc gives us The Romantic Intermezzo, full of evocative wind solos and curvaceous legato from the strings. Imposing lower brass lower in the Solemn Overture whilst the Ballade Op.78 has its Wagnerian-Franckian moments. The symphonic suite From the Middle Ages is a set of four movements with archaic titles. It’s full of bardic romance, balladry, folkloric warmth, troubadour wistfulness and the towering granite of the Crusading finale.

Disc five has something of a memorial feel. The Song of Fate quotes Beethoven’s Fifth and is brooding and a bit over-ruminative for its own good – but gallantly played to be sure. The pieces to the memory of Stasov, Rimsky-Korsakov and Gogol are necessarily brassy and in memoriam – that to Rimsky is unsettling, but unfolds a big tune with great nobility of utterance and strength of character. The Finnish Fantasia in C major is skirling and dramatic. The final disc includes the Op.90 Introduction and Salome’s dance from – of course – Salome. There are strong echoes of Scheherazade in the orchestration and whilst it’s not overtly erotic there is a real sense of nervous anticipation, partly fuelled by the occasionally lurid writing for brass. One of the strongest works in the set is the anonymously titled Theme with Variations for strings Op.97. Not only is Glazunov’s antenna for gorgeous melodies working supremely well but the variations are noteworthy and the set is laid out expertly for the orchestra. The Karelian legend is an extensive tone poem. If in the final resort it lacks the last ounce of melodic distinction it’s still vibrantly scored – the cuckoos and other birdcalls and the sense of forestry is unmistakable – and Svetlanov and his forces respond to it avidly.

There may be a lack of specificity when it comes to orchestras, dating and provenance but one should also note that the works are presented in ascending opus number beginning with Raymonda in 1899 and ending with Karelian Legend in 1916; a rather useful and I think in this case non-didactic exercise.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 


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