Reinhold GLIERE (1875-1956)
The Gliere Orchestral Collection
Symphony No. 3 in B minor, Op. 42 Ilya Muromets (1911) [78:08]
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 25 (1907) [45:54]
The Zaporozhy Cossacks, Op. 64 (1921) [18:06]
Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Op. 8 (1900) [34:18]
Suite from The Red Poppy, Op. 70 (1927) [26:14]
Suite from The Bronze Horseman (1949) [46:14]
Horn Concerto, Op. 91 (1950) [23:55]
Overture: Gyul’sara (1936) [16:58]
Concert Waltz, Op. 90 [5:59]
Overture: Shakh-Senem (1925) [15:57]
Ballad, Op. 4, arr. Derzhanovsky [5:43]
Overture on Slavonic Themes [9:42]
Heroic March for the Buryiat-Mongolian ASSR, Op. 71 (1936) [11:12]
Overture: Holiday at Ferghana, Op. 75 (1940) [9:05]
Peter Dixon (cello) Richard Watkins (horn) BBC Philharmonic/Sir Edward Downes, Vassily Sinaisky (CD 5)
rec. Manchester 1991-96.
Full track-list at end of review
CHANDOS CHAN10679(5)X [5 CDs: 78:08 + 64:09 + 60:40 + 70:16 + 75:30]
Reinhold Glière is a really fascinating composer. His interest in folk music, considerable teaching abilities (Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Mosolov, Knipper and Miaskovsky were among his pupils), willingness to tow ‘the party line’ in terms of music ideology and avoidance of involvement in the post-revolution disputes between the Association of Contemporary Music (ACM) and the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM), kept him out of trouble with the Soviet authorities throughout his life, unlike so many others. Born on 11 January 1875 (30 December1874 by the old calendar) in Kiev to a father of German descent and a mother of Polish origin, Glière changed the spelling of his name from Glier in 1900, giving rise to the erroneous myth that he was of Belgian extraction. Though his father was an instrument-maker he did not want his son to study music, preferring him to become a doctor. Having insisted on his choice, he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatoire and was taught, among others, by Arensky, Ippolitov-Ivanov and Taneyev. Graduating in 1900 he accepted a teaching post at the Gnesin School of Music where the 11 year-old Prokofiev was in his class. Because of his interest in folk music he was often called upon to go to some of the far-flung regions of the USSR to assist local composers “create” a national musical style. Of course, it had to fit the socialist realist remit of “art that serves the people” mostly meaning that it should be readily understood by all sections of the people and be uncomplicated in its rhythmic style. Above all, it must be completely devoid of any “formalistic tendencies”, therefore not avant-garde. In this capacity he visited both Azerbaijan to develop the first prototype of an Azerbaijani national opera from which emerged his Shakh-Senem, since considered the cornerstone of the Soviet-Azerbaijani opera tradition (!), and Uzbekistan, where he worked alongside Uzbek composer Talib Sadykov, producing the overture Gyul’sara and the opera Leyli va Medzhnun. He was the recipient of three awards before the Revolution and many afterwards, including from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and several Stalin prizes. Here was a man who knew how to keep his musical nose clean. However, this does not mean that his music is unworthy of exposure. It should be remembered that it was the storm of protest from the cultural watchdogs, including Stalin himself following the premiere of Shostakovich’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ that eventually led to the composition of his 5th symphony, subtitled “a Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism” which has since become his most popular work throughout the world.
This boxed set of Glière’s orchestral music is a great opportunity for those to whom his name is little known to discover some tremendous music of great power and beauty.
The first CD in the set offers a great recording of Glière’s most well-known work, his Symphony No.3 Ilya Muromets. In the 12th century it was Ilya Muromets who was chosen to defend the Kievan Rus, the cradle of the modern nations of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, from the Tatar invaders. The legend has it that Ilya, a farmer’s son, was lame until the age of 33 when two gods, disguised as pilgrims came to tell him he was cured and to rise and assume the role of a bogatyr (knight-errant) and set forth to defend the land. The character, however, is said to have been based on a real warrior who lived c.1150-1204 and who was made a saint. The symphony is a huge musical canvas requiring fourfold woodwind, eight horns, five trumpets and an elaborate percussion section. The accompanying booklet makes the interesting point that whilst the other two huge symphonies of the early years of the new century, Rachmaninov’s Second (begun in 1907) and Scriabin’s Third “The Divine Poem” (1903) were introverted works full of Rachmaninov’s own gloom and Scriabin’s strange and very personal philosophy, Glière’s symphony is an arm’s-length telling of a story full of fantastical landscapes, gods and evil giants. The first movement tells of Ilya’s transformation from indolence to knight and his seeking out of the god Svyagotor who, as Ilya’s mentor, gives Ilya his own super-human strength before expiring. Ilya then gallops on towards Kiev. The movement is an introduction to Glière’s brilliant use of the orchestra that is evident throughout his output. He was a wonderful tunesmith who had a incredible facility for producing lush orchestration that moves the story on in an almost ‘Hollywoodian’ fashion – he would certainly have been in great demand had he ever been able to work there. This music could not be anything else but Russian; it has so many of the musical threads that underline its Russianness: I use ‘Russian’ in its widest sense since Glière was Ukrainian. Muted strings and contrabassoon describe Ilya’s inertia before an upward turn in the music, accompanied by harps, herald the two gods’ appearance and the first big climax sees Ilya off on his way to find Svyagotor and then onward to defend the Kievan Rus. The meeting with Svyagotor is accompanied by martial music that then forges forward to the second great climax to show the god’s passing on of his strength to Ilya who then gallops off towards Kiev. It seems that all heroes have to be tested while on their quests and Ilya is no exception. The third movement (part II) concerns his meeting with Nightingale the Robber, a strange name for what is in fact an ogre who is bent on destroying anyone who chances upon him and who resorts to using his beautiful daughters as bait. Ilya, however, is made of considerably stronger stuff and turns the tables on Nightingale, who uses a fearfully sounding, piercing whistle to kill his victims. Ilya ends up trailing him behind his horse, having shot an arrow into his right eye. All these events are brilliantly conjured up in some truly vivid music beginning with low woodwind and strings playing near the bridge to produce the effect of a cold, desolate landscape. Into this nightmarish world Ilya appears heralded by distant fanfares and Nightingale’s daughters begin their attempts to beguile Ilya not only with their beauty but gold, silver and pearls - all to no avail as our hero is resistant to all such attempts to seduce him. This is a man on a mission and the wiles of these fantastical characters are not going to interfere. The music here is lush in the extreme bringing comparisons with Scriabin’s Divine Poem. This then gives way to some powerful blasts from the brass section to signal the final struggle with the terrible Nightingale and Ilya’s triumph over him and we leave the frightening forest that remains so even without its ogre. What a contrast we now have at the Court of Vladimir the Mighty Sun. The music radiates regal pomp as well as warmth as a festive scene is depicted before horns and cellos herald Ilya’s arrival and his felling of the proudest of the princes with Nightingale’s whistle before slicing off the robber’s head. It was interesting to read David Nice’s assessment of this section which he writes strikes the first truly Russian note in the symphony while I felt it had that identifying stamp from the word go. I certainly agree with him when he says that this movement is one that Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov would have been proud to have claimed as their own. It is further proof, I think, that Glière has been unjustifiably overlooked when compared to them.
The climax of this massive symphony comes in two parts depicting Ilya’s heroic deeds and his demise. Firstly he and his bogatyrs battle for twelve days against the Tatars in a mighty swirl of sound that incorporates Ilya’s theme from the first movement and then a new, noble melody signifying that Ilya and his men are triumphant. However, as the old saying goes “pride goes before a fall” and in their celebrations the victors shout that there is no army either earthly or heavenly that they could not destroy. They are humbled by the two ‘pilgrims’ that first sent Ilya out on his quest. They are part of a celestial army which appears and against which the bogatyrs struggle in vain. They are vanquished in a battle that leaves the army obliterated and Ilya turned to stone. The wall of sound that underpins these events is truly monumental in scale and every element of the huge orchestral forces is brought to bear to depict them. The final defeat of the bogatyrs sounds like the hammers of hell might well sound with Ilya’s theme ‘leaking’ out from under it to emphasise the weight of the forces brought to bear against him and his warriors. Eventually the music slows and low-playing strings and brass bring the dark nature of the end into focus. The symphony is over. There cannot be many other instances in the history of music in which a story is so vividly portrayed and one cannot fail to be in awe at Glière’s ability to tell the story so brilliantly. I really hope this issue helps bring this symphony out of the shadows and into the light it so richly deserves.
The above sentiment goes for the other works in this set because anyone who doesn’t know Glière’s music and is tempted to think that he may have been a ‘one trick pony’ is easily disabused by the second disc which contains two works: Symphony no.2 and The Zaporozhy Cossacks. His Second Symphony, written in 1908, is as lavishly scored as the one just examined. It was a commission from Serge Koussevitzky, who had recently migrated from being a double-bassist to conductor and publisher. It begins with portentous sounds from horns and bassoons against a background of low strings announcing the movement’s main theme carried along on wave after wave of gloriously colourful melodies fully developed; Glière is not one of those composers who sprinkles themes around without doing anything with them – he wastes nothing which makes the music such a satisfying experience. You are never left with the feeling that you could have done better. The second movement begins with a lighter sound from woodwind and tiptoeing strings before a charming tune is introduced by a solo horn then taken up by the whole orchestra. The sound becomes bigger and more grand, as we’re beginning to expect from this composer and the movement ends in a mighty climax. The third movement is interesting and unusual in that it comprises a theme, a very Russian folk-like sounding melody, that is filtered through a set of six variations. These make for delightful listening and comparisons have been made with Tchaikovsky in that Glière’s music often sounds balletic but as we shall see with The Red Poppy suite that’s no surprise as he could ‘do ballet’ as easily as most other musical genres he chose to tackle. Whatever instrument he chooses to carry a theme he seems to know the instrument so well that nothing ever sounds false or incongruous. Woodwind plus harp and strings bring this set of variations to a close on a note of serene harmony. The finale begins with an eastern-sounding theme reminiscent of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances which I’m sure explains how he came to be encouraged to go to some of the far-flung republics of the USSR later in the century to help them develop their own classical music. This theme is treated to an exploration by various instruments and again woodwind is often the section of choice when Glière wishes to give his audience something sweet to enjoy. Even the xylophone is brought into the picture as the theme mounts in intensity to become a veritable battleground of exciting sounds and the work ends with a crescendo from the brass section making a powerful full-stop to a mighty, well constructed and ultimately satisfying symphonic journey.
The Zaporozhy Cossacks is a piece written as late as 1921 and later revised as a ballet-pantomime in 1926 which tells the story as depicted in Ilya Repin’s famous painting of The Zaporozhy Cossacks writing a mocking letter to the Turkish Sultan of 1891. To quote from the website of the National Museum in Stockholm “The narrative relates to events in 1675 when the Turkish Sultan Mohammed IV sent the Zaporozhye Cossacks a threatening, haughty ultimatum, ordering them so surrender immediately “of their own volition and without resistance” or to perish at his hand. The Cossacks composed a scathing reply, brimming with humour and scorn: “We do not fear your troops, we will fight you with this earth and water” they wrote, adding “highly obscene curses and insulting names”. David Nice in his article in the accompanying booklet says that the listener would be forgiven for thinking that this work predates the symphony since it is written in a less sophisticated way but when you understand the pressure composers were under to produce music ‘that speaks to the people’ in the Soviet period it really comes as no surprise that this work fits neatly into the ‘socialist realist’ framework. What matters is does it work as a musical picture of the events as described above? The answer is a resounding yes; ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’ and in typical grand Glière style. The introduction sets the scene with a grandiose sweep of sound culminating in a patriotic Russian tune which describes the Cossacks’ pride and determination in the face of the letter received from the Turkish Sultan. This then segues into the writing of their reply which is read out to all. This again merges into cleverly depicted laughter as the Cossacks mock the Sultan’s letter. The penultimate section is a series of Cossack dances. Anyone who has ever seen The Red Army Choir and Dancers will immediately recognize the format in which different dancers appear centre-stage to perform their dance, giving way to subsequent dancers who perform theirs, each trying to outdo the others. It could easily have come straight from one of their discs. The finale reprises the patriotic tune as if to emphasize that the Cossacks are not to be messed with! In fact although the Ottoman Empire succeeded in beating the forces ranged against it in the shape of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of which the Cossacks were a part, the Polish-Ottoman War (1672-1676) as it is known, weakened both sides and the Ottoman Empire began to crumble. By 1699 it had lost a great deal of the territory it had held for two centuries.
It is not until we reach disc number three that we get to Glière’s First Symphony which is coupled with a much later work, his Suite from The Red Poppy, which had its premiere a full 27 years after the symphony. Another of David Nice’s articles in the accompanying booklet tells how in 1927, when that premiere took place along with Glière’s pupil Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges, Prokofiev told his old friend and teacher how he and Dukelsky - another pupil who went on to make his name in the USA as Vernon Duke - would go for walks together and amuse themselves recalling their youth by humming the tunes from Glière’s first and second symphonies. Nice says that the two young men could hardly have chosen better models to study than “these two well-made symphonies”. I absolutely agree with that assessment as his first symphony has all the hallmarks of a master craftsman with no hint of a young man who is still exploring the symphonic genre. The symphony begins with the statement of a strong and lovely theme that is thoroughly exploited throughout the first movement, and it is the facility for full exploration of themes that I find so incredibly satisfying about Glière’s music; no musical stone is left unturned in milking every drop of melody from his themes. Each movement in fact is dominated by grand themes which make for a richness that is so exciting. Whilst the orchestral forces here are so much smaller than those used in his monumental third symphony the sound he gets from his orchestration is still writ large. This first main theme that begins in grandiose style is later given a much lighter, merrier treatment in almost dance style before being pulled back to being serious once more with the help of brass, then finishing on a more songlike, gentle note. The second movement begins with a balletic theme reminiscent of Tchaikovsky or even Delibes before a Russian folk song emerges to take control in 5/4 time but again with ballet-style treatment coming through every now and then in a struggle to assert itself. The third movement begins in a much more sober and reflective mood heavy with the melancholy nature of the “Russian soul”. It’s chock full of gorgeous melodies, whilst the finale doesn’t disappoint either. The latter’s introduction is full of Russian tunes which descend into a more sober mood before being dragged back into the light with echoes of the main theme from the first movement. The work finishes, to quote David Nice, with “a model ending to a blueprint symphony”.
As explained at the start of this review Glière always ensured he kept well within the aesthetic constraints of socialist realist diktats. The Suite from The Red Poppy is a perfect demonstration of this. It comes from the first truly Soviet ballet, despite, as David Nice writes, owing “far more to the lure of a glamorised China”; it is “Soviet” in the sense that it was written to appeal to all sections of society. The story tells of the love between a Soviet sailor and a Chinese girl who is killed by the sailor’s capitalist rival, aided by the dastardly British imperialist commandant of the port, as she tries to escape her homeland on board a Soviet ship. As she dies she gives her compatriots a red poppy and exhorts them to use it as their mascot in their fight for freedom - remember the red carnations that fighters stuck into the ends of their rifles during the Portuguese revolution of 1974. It is ironic that the Soviet authorities changed the ballet’s name in 1949 to The Red Flower so that no one would mistakenly associate the poppy with the Marxian phrase “Religion is the opium of the people” and see it as a metaphor for communism. The suite begins in rattling fashion with Heroic Coolie Dance in a quite convincing pastiche of Chinese music, followed by the setting out of the young couple’s love for each other, during which the opening bars of The Internationale are heard to emphasise the music’s revolutionary credentials. There follow two dances, both Chinese in flavour. Part IV is entitled “Phoenix” and is a lovely melody played on the solo violin of the BBC Philharmonic’s leader Dennis Simons, backed by the orchestra. It’s heavy with melancholy. The penultimate section is a waltz which is every bit as convincing as anything from the pen of the great Johann Strauss. The finale is a hugely satisfying and rumbustious Russian Sailor’s Dance which brings back more memories of the Cossack Dance in The Zaporozhy Cossacks. It must surely be a record to have ten distinct markings in a piece that lasts under four minutes! It is a Russian folk theme with variations played at different speeds from serious and sonorous to frantically lively. It conjures up a mental picture of dancers slapping their leather boots as they perform leaping and twirling ‘acroballetics’ - my invented word to describe acrobatics married to ballet. I would travel a long way to see the whole ballet as it should be as much a spectacle for the eyes as well as it is for the ears.
Disc four of this excellent set begins with the suite from The Bronze Horseman which is from another of Glière’s ballets. It proved so popular that it threatened to eclipse The Red Poppy. Based on Pushkin’s work of the same name it tells of a St Petersburg youth. His beloved drowns in the River Neva and he then taunts the bronze statue of the city’s founder, Peter the Great, that stands only yards from the river. The statue comes to life and chases and finally kills him. Awarded a Stalin Prize in 1950 it perfectly fitted the socialist realist remit and Glière avoided being put on the blacklist being drawn up at the time which included his pupils Prokofiev, Miaskovsky and Khachaturian as well as Shostakovich. In fact the finale entitled “Hymn to the Great City” was broadcast over loudspeakers at the main Leningrad railway station, much to Shostakovich’s horror; why when he also wrote plenty of “acceptable” socialist realist music! For me, though it includes plenty of pleasant music with Glière’s characteristic lavish orchestral scoring, it is the weakest of the works on offer in this set and with the inclusion of four dances in its thirteen movements the suite doesn’t amply describe the story.
The Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, Op.91, destined to be Glière’s last completed orchestral work, is unusual in that there were few examples of horn concertos from Russian composers prior to this and Glière turned to isolated examples such those by Goedicke (1929) and Shebalin (1930). Interestingly it had been Shebalin who had been encouraged early in his student days to show his work to Glière who thought highly of it, and to Miaskovsky, Glière’s pupil who in turn became Shebalin’s professor. As we have seen in previous examples of Glière’s music this work begins with a strong and memorable theme introduced by the orchestra and immediately taken up by the horn. Coming before the recapitulation the cadenza, here specially written by the soloist Richard Watkins for this recording is very lovely and only hinted at by the composer who leaves it up to the soloist to come up with their own, as did its dedicatee Valeri Polekh, solo horn-player in the Bolshoi Theatre for over forty years. The Andante is beautifully lush and halfway through indulges the listener with some good old fashioned Hollywood sentimentality as pointed out by Rob Barnett in his review of this concerto when it came out on the Koch Schwann label with Marie Luise Neunecker as soloist. The finale is again packed with full-blooded tunes that test the soloist’s abilities and concludes a very satisfying work with more than an echo of Richard Strauss, whose second horn concerto had been written some ten years before. The work proved to be the end of Glière’s career as well as one of the last hurrahs for the romantic concerto.
The final disc in the set, conducted this time by Vassili Sinaisky, rather than Sir Edward Downes, is of overtures and orchestral works and shows the reasons why Glière had been selected to go to places like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan to help develop those countries’ music and where in both those cases he would have the title of ‘People’s Artist’ conferred upon him. He had an innate ability to crystallise the folk elements he found there and to fuse them into something resembling a “national” sound. Towards the end of the first piece on the disc, the overture Gyul’sara, strongly stated and exciting Tajik folk dances are given the Glière treatment to great effect. Next comes a simple Concert Waltz that, nevertheless, is big on tunes and as romantic as you could possibly want. It looks over its shoulder back to pre-revolutionary days where such a work would have had deserved success. Shakh-Senem is an overture to the opera of the same name which became, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, the cornerstone of Soviet-Azerbaijani opera tradition. Once again it demonstrates Glière’s facility for distilling the local strains of folk music into something altogether more grand. There is much that is reminiscent of Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh here and perhaps that is because we in the west cannot so clearly differentiate between music of the Central Asian countries (Khachaturian was from Armenia) but more likely it is because the central core of the music from those areas involves the Persian tradition. It was to remove that connotation that once again the cultural watchdogs stepped in and renamed the opera The Worker of Baku for Russian consumption eight years after its premiere in that city in 1926. The Ballad, Op.4 is a very early work by comparison with most of the music in this survey, dating as it does from 1902 only two years after Glière’s graduation. Here it was originally written for cello and piano and is presented in a version orchestrated by Derzhanovsky. As such it is highly effective and affecting with beautifully fluid lines permeating its pages. The Overture on Slavonic Themes sounds as if it came from 19th century Bohemia as soon as it begins, despite the fact that it dates from 1941; there is something particularly ‘Czech’ about it rather than sounding generally Slav. It would not be out of place being played at the Prague Spring Festival, alongside the traditional festival opening (and closing) work: Smetana’s Ma Vlast. The Heroic March for the Buryiat-Mongolian ASSR, Op.71 is a typical offering in the socialist realist tradition. It was written in 1934-36 but is more of a tone poem than anything else. Buryatia as it is known today is one and a half times the size of Great Britain but with a population of under a million and lies in south central Siberia along the side of Lake Baikal. The music is inventive and incorporates what sounds distinctly Chinese in parts but then China is not far away geographically. The piece employs Glière’s skill once again in seeking out folk melodies to ally with western musical traditions to produce something understandable to all. Echoes of ‘God save the Tsar’ in the central section are subdued by assertions of the indigenous people’s melodies buoyed aloft on a wave of powerful sound and underscored with strains of The Internationale. Glière is in fact clearly stating that the people’s future can only be assured by its becoming an ASSR within the mighty internationalist Soviet Union. In Holiday in Ferghana he calls for the inclusion of two regional instruments: the safail a kind of Tajik tambourine and the nagara which is a small drum heard in its opening moments. Ferghana is in Uzbekistan and the piece is connected with the construction, almost all by hand (!), of the Ferghana canal which was completed in 1939 after almost ten years. As Ferghana lies on the ancient silk route the musical influences here are widespread but clearly folk infected and use Glière’s understanding of Uzbek tunes to the full. Interestingly according to David Nice’s article it was dedicated ‘to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on its Fiftieth Anniversary and to Dr Frederick Stock its celebrated conductor’. This was surely quite a brave thing to do at the time it was written, but it was that orchestra that gave its first performance on 20 March 1941. It is typical of what this set has encouraged us to expect from this fascinating and inventive composer whose brilliant orchestration abilities make everything so listenable.
All the works in this set are given highly committed performances by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes (discs 1-4) and Vassili Sinaisky (disc 5) and with Richard Watkins as brilliant soloist in the Horn Concerto and Peter Dixon as cello soloist in the Ballad. All involved are clearly enjoying the sumptuous nature of this wonderful composer. These are thrilling performances bringing to life some rarely heard music that needs greater exposure. I sincerely hope this issue helps give that.
I have so much enjoyed reviewing this set as it has really helped me discover Glière, whose output is so consistently exciting and whose lush scoring and gorgeous melodies make for really satisfying listening. However, it requires the listener to put aside any preconceived ideas and prejudices about ‘Soviet hack music’ and toadying to the authorities. No composer, however much they are prepared to compromise their principles could write so much music as convincingly original as Glière did if it was not what they wanted to write. I urge anyone who is at all interested in the music of the Soviet period and the early 20th century Russian tradition, who loves big sounds and who does not know this composer, to give this set a try. I can guarantee they will not be disappointed; on the contrary they will find much to admire, marvel at and enjoy.
You will find much to admire, marvel at and enjoy.