Glazunov was without doubt a prolific composer, with works stretching
from an op.1 string quartet produced at 16 years old to an op.110
organ fantasy written in the last couple of years of his life.
There has thus been plenty of music to be explored in Naxos’s
ongoing series of CDs devoted to his music.
But now that we’ve reached volume 18, a certain sense of approaching
– if not quite actually dredging – the bottom of the barrel
is becoming apparent. True enough, the fact that the incidental
music that he composed for Lermontov’s 1836 play Masquerade
has never actually been published and exists only in manuscript
form, gives it a certain intriguing unfamiliarity. But perhaps
we need to ask why no enterprising publisher ever thought
this music worthy of promotion.
The basic problem is that most of the 26 numbers we have here
are very short – more than half of them, in fact, less than
a minute long. There are, moreover, no surviving indications
as to where exactly the music fitted into the play. Thus the
numbers are torn from their on-stage dramatic context, making
it difficult for both performers and listeners to make a great
deal of them. A small number of the more substantial items –
notably a stately Act 1 mazurka that features some vigorous
wordless ah-ing from the chorus and a lilting Act 3 valse-fantaisie
– are individually quite attractive in Glazunov’s typically
tuneful and easy-on-the-ear manner. But they are also, to be
frank, relatively forgettable or, if not quite that, easily
confusable with many other very similar pieces that the composer
produced throughout his long career.
As it happens, three of the four “fillers” on this CD, none
considered worthy of mention on the front cover, are actually
of greater musical substance than any of the Masquerade tracks.
Once again, though, they are unlikely to shatter any preconceptions
about the composer or to warrant frequent listening. The op.14
pieces are delicately scored and atmospheric early works, clearly
influenced by the Balakirev school’s fondness for sweeping melodies
and faux orientalism, while the Romantic intermezzo
both fully and attractively lives up to its name and also
showcases a composer who has, by his mid-30s, succeeded in establishing
a rather more individual – and westwards-looking – style.
We must be grateful to Naxos for its decision to give us, over
the past 14 years, such a well-rounded – and, I trust, still
developing – picture of Glazunov’s oeuvre but will have
to accept at the same time that there will inevitably be the
occasional seam of lead among the gold. The saving grace of
this disc, though, lies in performances that are quite exemplary.
The Gnesin Academy Chorus is clearly an accomplished and well-drilled
body that sings beautifully and idiomatically, while Dmitry
Yablonsky and the orchestra, beautifully recorded, do their
considerable best for the well-crafted but sometimes rather
vacuous and enervated scores. Their inability to persuade me
to think more highly of this disc is less a reflection of their
commitment and abilities than a lukewarm reaction on my own
part to some of Glazunov’s less inspired writing.
see also review by Nick