Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1937)
Complete Concertos
CD 1
Concerto in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 82 (1904) [20:18]
Chant du Ménestrel (for cello) Op. 71 (1901) [3:55]
Concerto No. 2 for Piano with Orchestra in B major Op. 100 (1917) [18:30]
Concerto in E flat for Saxophone and String Orchestra Op. 109 (1936) [13:11]
CD 2
Concerto No. 1 for Piano with Orchestra in F minor, Op. 92 (1911) [30:15]
Reverie Op.24 (for French horn) (1890) [3:12]
Concerto Ballata for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 108 (1931) [19:52]
Méditation, Op. 32 (for violin) (1891) [4:11]
Rachel Barton-Pine (violin), Alexander Romanovsky (piano), Wen-Sinn Yang (cello), Marc Chisson (saxophone), Alexey Serov (horn)
Russian National Orchestra/Jose Serebrier
rec. Svetlanov Hall, Moscow International Performing Arts Centre, 3-7 April 2010. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564679465 [56:11 + 57:48]

While there have been single discs of Glazunov concertos before no one has offered an edition of the complete concertos. The rather uneven Naxos set using Russian forces included them all but dotted around various CDs mixed in with other orchestral pieces.

Serebrier already has impeccable credentials in Glazunov – witness his complete symphonies for the same label. Do read the Serebrier-Dixon interview. His Fourth Symphony is one of the best ever readings of this joyous work. His others are very fine indeed despite competition from Svetlanov (SVET), Polyansky (Brilliant), Otaka (Bis), Järvi (Orfeo); Fedoseyev on MP3 (ex-Melodiya-Eurodisc) and Rozhdestvensky (Olympia and recently Melodiya).

There five true concertos. With one exception – Piano concerto 1 – these are all shorter than 21 minutes. Add to this three genre miniatures.

Soloist and orchestra launch the Violin Concerto in a tender yet insinuating way - a sly seduction. They have a deeply fulfilling way with the solo filament and the orchestral score. Barton-Pine is a class act with steady tone and an aptitude for dynamic variation. She achieves this without disturbing the even production of her silvery thread which has a very agreeable viola-accented sepia overtone. Her con slancio death-defying double-stopping in III is done with every appearance of ease. It sounds terrifying yet is totally fluent and utterly and intricately secure like a divine music-box – not machine-like. Her tone is not platinum-bleached but instead is fragrant with conifer resin. Magnificent recording balance too that allowed me to hear Tchaikovskian details I had never previously registered especially in the pathos of the discreet writing at the start of the third movement. The flute in III is tellingly emotive at 3:00 and again at 3:20. I would not want you to turn your back on Shumsky, Krasko or Sivo; the latter resplendent in 1966 Decca analogue stereo. However Barton-Pine is no also-ran; the more I hear it the more I am confirmed in my initial appraisal that this has to be first choice among modern versions. It even harries golden age Sivo.

The complementary ease of their work is perhaps a reflection of Barton-Pine and Serebrier’s having worked in concert – see Her Cedille discs of Joachim and Brahms concertos and of Beethoven and Clement are further testimony to her great qualities.

The Second Piano Concerto is a work written in 1917, a decade after the last complete symphony (No. 8) though you can hear something of that symphony mixed with oriental spices in the finale. With its heart’s-ease opening theme this is a work that combines scirrocos of Tchaikovskian drama with the decorative delights of the Saint-Saens concertos.

The longest work here, at just over half an hour, is the First Piano Concerto. Its dancing delicacy is fully displayed at 5:34 in the first movement but there is more grandstanding blazon later on and a strong infusion of stormy Rachmaninov. If you love the Arensky and Scriabin concertos you must hear this and the Second Concerto. Time and again these recordings satisfy with their technical qualities – the saw-toothed bite of the brass is just one example on display in the finale of the First Concerto.

Alexander Romanovsky has the necessary tempestuous command for the piano concertos as well as reserves of quiet tenderness and a way of spinning filigree to connote fruity substance.

Marc Chisson suaves and soothes his way through the Saxophone Concerto – a work that alongside the Fourth Symphony, the Finnish Fantasy and the Violin Concerto is among my favourites. It is touching, joyous, smoothly melancholy, whistleable and very distinctive. Here there a few transient reservations – Chisson, on occasions, falls into a sort of fluty quiet flutter and his velvety key action can be heard; still what do we expect: keys need to be depressed and released to play this glory-saturated instrument. The music is completely unjazzy; you might have wondered since it was Glazunov’s last work - written for Sigurd Rascher the year before the composer’s death. Serebrier in his liner-note tells us that he performed it with Rascher in 1961 in Utica, NY. Fascinating!

The Chant du Ménestrel strikes me as a melancholy tale. Again it is done with real pathos accentuated by a truly superior recording. We have heard all these artists in this work before. It was one of the fillers to Serebrier’s splendid live Rachmaninov Bells also on Warner (review review). The lovely little Reverie is a charmingly romantic mood-brevity. Alexey Serov’s masterly French horn takes the role of serenading lover rather than buffoon huntsman. Barton-Pine returns at the end of disc two. She is centre-stage in the nostalgic Méditation, a work mildly in hock to the Siegfried Idyll and plays us out in a soothing sunset.

The Casals-dedicated Concerto Ballata sports the sort of title we might have expected of a cello concerto by Medtner. Its rounded and undulating contours are completely consistent with its lyrical inclinations although its tunes are not as instantly catchy as those in the other concertos. It is not without drama or without some echoes of the Violin Concerto but it has less ‘face’ and is lower key by comparison with the other concertos. There are other capable recordings by Rudin (Naxos), Rostropovich, 1964 (EMI), Shallon (Koch Schwann 311 119 H1) and Yegor Dyachkov (Chandos CHAN 9528).

A criticism is that one work follows the other with too little intervening silence.

This goes straight to the top of the recommended versions of the concertos. I cannot imagine it being surpassed, so strong and sympathetic are these performances and recordings.

Rob Barnett

Straight to the top of the recommended versions of the concertos. I cannot imagine this set being surpassed, so strong and sympathetic are these performances and recordings.