Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865 – 1936)

Complete Works for Organ:-
Prelude and Fugue in D Op.93 (1906) [9:14]
Prelude and Fugue in D minor Op.98 (1914) [8:23]
Prelude and Fugue in D minor Op.62 (1899) arr. B. Sabaneev [14:43]
Fantasy in G Op.110 (1934) [16:54]
Vera Zvegintseva (organ)
rec. Notre-Dame du Perpetuel Secours, Paris France 28-30 September 2005
I do not think I am venturing out on too much of a limb to suggest that this is a disc for the specialist. The orchestra has always seemed to be Glazunov’s natural element giving him opportunities to express his flair for orchestration and instrumental colour. Prior to listening to this disc I have to say I had no idea he had written any music for organ let alone a full CD’s worth. That last statement should be caveated a little; after all this disc runs to a pretty mean 49:06 of which fourteen minutes is a transcription – by a third party - for organ of one of Glazunov’s piano preludes and fugues. A further surprise to me – although common knowledge I’m sure amongst organ aficionados – is that the main organ of the Moscow Conservatory was/is a Cavaillé-Coll. For me that name is synonymous with the Vierne and Widor Organ Symphonies with great banks of dramatic reeds thundering in religious ecstasy and certainly not one I would ever associate with Glazunov but appropriate that this recording should have been made using just such an instrument.
The three original works here are all late in the arc of Glazunov’s composing career. Although he was barely forty by 1906 because of his precociously young debut as a composer the large bulk of his greatest and most influential works had already been written. 1905 was the year he took over directorship of the St Petersburg Conservatory and it is clear that his creative energies were diverted into that institution. Don’t come to these works expecting to be thrilled by extravagant musical gestures or dramatic keyboard showpieces. These are sober, indeed sombre works in the style of Bach or, as the liner points out, Saint-Saëns and Franck. There is a sense of intellectual rigour and form being placed above incident or colour that might well appeal to many but I have to say I find verging on the dull. It is as if Glazunov is working very hard to suppress his natural instincts for ear-tickling moment over large scale abstract form. Organist Vera Zvegintseva is well suited to the role, born and trained in Russia her subsequent career has taken her to Paris – in just the same way Glazunov went there after the Revolution – so she has a natural affinity for the repertoire while understanding the quirks and nature of the instrument she plays. The recording is good, the warm acoustic – not overly ‘churchy’ but with an appropriate resonance when required – allows the detail of the careful contrapuntal writing to register. It goes with the territory of this type of organ that the reedy registrations never sound absolutely in tune but that is as much a function of the instrument’s character as any fault per se – try the very opening of track 3 for a tremulous rather watery sound - I’m not enough of an organ expert to recognise the stop - that is strangely appealing. Zveginstseva is very good at allowing the structure of the fugues in particular to build slowly. To be blunt these are far from thrilling works - you cannot imagine them featuring on too many ‘organ fireworks’ CDs – in fact Glazunov seems to be deliberately avoiding anything that could be deemed crowd-pleasing. The 1914 Prelude and Fugue in D minor is dedicated to Saint-Saëns and it has the feel of a ‘private’ work – for a year of such global import this work piece seems spectacularly detached from the real world let alone musically contemporaneous events. Again and again as Glazunov seems to be approaching a musical climax/crisis the music sheers away. I have not seen any scores so I cannot tell how rigorously Zvegintseva follows the detail contained therein, all I would say is that for extended passages there is some sense of a ramble – it is hard to perceive the underlying bar-to-bar pulse and large structure. But then others might argue with some validity that this is the nature of ‘pure’ contrapuntal writing. When a sustained climax is finally reached – track 4 around 5:20 through to the end of the movement – certainly the organ makes a wonderfully French sound and Zvegintseva is good at articulating the chords and passage-work and at last there is the pleasure of hearing the acoustic echoing away as the work ends.
The third work was not originally conceived for organ although it sounds well in this transcription in terms of the registrations used and overall ‘feel’. The only obvious issue is that some of the internal writing you can imagine being easier to articulate on a responsive grand piano than an intractable organ. Certainly there is a degree of lumpiness audible that I would put down to the instrument not the player. Also, by nature of its origin there is a greater rate of harmonic turn-over in this work which leads to a degree of obscuring that was not apparent in the original organ works. The main difference between the ‘piano’ prelude and fugue and the other two original works of the same title is one of form. For the original works Glazunov wrote a fugue roughly double the length of the introductory prelude. Here the fugue is nearer to four times the length and the treatment of the fugal concept is far freer – more of a fantasy in fugal form perhaps. It has more of a questing feel than the other two works so named but again there is little opportunity for display – this is a questioning and cerebral work. The final work is pretty much just that – Glazunov’s Op.110 written in 1934-5 seems to be the last work he assigned an opus number just a year before his death. Has a work more out of its time ever been written? As so often I do find it remarkable with a man who spent so many years passionately involved with and actively promoting the music of young aspiring composers that some of their harmonic or formal daring, let alone the musical developments in the rest of the world did not rub off on his own work. By definition if you are working with young artists you cannot remain totally aloof to new ideas. But back to the music -it was dedicated to and first performed by Marcel Dupré who also acted as technical consultant. There is a gently spiritual quality to the opening Fantasia and judged by the ear alone it has thrown off most of the strict formal shackles of the other works. Conversely, it hard to avoid the thought that this is an old man’s music – the fires of inspiration let alone passion are burning low. Zvegintseva works hard at injecting as much variety and colour into the score as it will allow but this remains for me a rather grey work. Perhaps specialists in this field will find more subtle pleasures. I see that the three original works have been recorded elsewhere although not on a French organ the sound of which is my enduring pleasurable memory of this disc – the very end of track 8 unleashes the beast within in a final moment of valedictory splendour. All credit to Northern Flowers for producing this disc which is by definition going to appeal to a niche market within a niche. I would like to hear Zvegintseva in more of the Russian repertoire the liner says she has a particular affinity for but ultimately I find the music here just too uninspiring to imagine it leaping from my shelves very often.
Nick Barnard
Ultimately I find the music here just too uninspiring to imagine it leaping from my shelves very often. … see Full Review