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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Incidental music Masquerade (1912-13) [35:33]
Two pieces, op.14 (1886-1887) [15:53]
Pas de caractère, op.68 (1899) [2:22]
Romantic intermezzo, op.69 (1900) [11:09]
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow; 10-15 October 2006
NAXOS 8.570211 [66:57]
Experience Classicsonline

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.

Rob Maynard

see also review by Nick Barnard















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