RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Complete Symphonies and Concertos
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 (concertos); Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow 2004-2009 (symphonies etc) DDD
Full contents list at end of review
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 66467 4 [8 CDs: c. 520:00]]
MusicWeb International interviews with Jose Serebrier: Ann Ozorio Gavin Dixon
Full liner-notes for this set http://www.warnerclassics.com/downloads/0825646646746.pdf
Serebrier biography: http://www.joseserebrier.com/conductor_bio.html
Have you resisted the temptation to acquire Jose Serebrier’s admirable Glazunov discs piece-meal? If so your restraint is now rewarded. For less than thirty GBP you can have them all in a clam-shell box with each disc in its own card sleeve and with a booklet setting out only the track details. You off-set gains in price and shelf space by the loss of detailed liner-notes. All is not lost, though: you can access the notes in a pdf on the Warner Classics site.
The conductor’s perspective on Glazunov can be read in a fascinating interview by Gavin Dixon. Serebrier tell us that Glazunov is a composer close to his heart. I can well believe that. You can hear his approach in the first two movements of the Fifth Symphony. In the first he builds tension and exposes structural cogency through mercurial spontaneity. It strikes me as instinctive but I am sure there is more to it than that. Hearing Glazunov from a non-simpatico conductor is like experiencing a flat and tepid wine designed to be enjoyed chilled and sparkling. A Glazunov Scherzo is a thing of wonder and Serebrier finds the mot juste in the Fifth. He unleashes a reeling kinetic excitement in the finale making links with Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
The Seasons is one his most Tchaikovskian works yet in Serebrier’s hands escapes any suggestion of being a warmed-over Swan Lake. It’s all touchingly pointed up making the notes leap to attention. Warner is to be congratulated on separately tracking each section within each of the four seasons. The great curvaceous melody of Spring is most sensitively wielded If you enjoy your Tchaikovsky ballets do not miss out on this version of the Glazunov – winning ideas tumble one after the other.
I owe it to Ann Ozorio that I heard the first disc in the cycle. She had received a copy of the Fourth Symphony after an interview with Serebrier. It is superbly judged, nudged and weighted. The finale has a belting acceleration from reflective to exuberant and impetuous. Serebrier treats the Symphony with a sort of loving respect which eschews self-indulgence. Serebrier’s unerring judgment for pacing sweeps all before it in the finale of this glorious symphony.
The Seventh bubbles and lilts delightfully but although Serebrier gives it some steel especially in the Andante (II) and the Scherzo this is clearly a work with a shade less tension than its disc-mate, the Fourth.
I always felt affectionately towards the Eighth Symphony even if it has come in for some stick. It was his last completed symphony. My impressions and expectations were shaped by Svetlanov’s rousing EMI-Melodiya LP. Serebrier has less of the soviet blare but just as much adrenaline. The wan delights of Raymonda attain charm but is not up to the standards of The Seasons.
The Sixth Symphony at first wears its tragedy heavily. Glazunov could never resist a Scherzo and he did them very well. This one is a shade more deliberate than its counterparts. The finale has the iron-shod tramping power of the Rachmaninov First Symphony.
The tone poem The Sea was written when the composer was in his twenties. It is a pleasingly stormily romantic work which after the tempests revels in a lighter lyric mood. It ends in what seems like a night-scene in which the sea glimmers poetically in the moonlight.
The long gait of the Third Symphony’s first movement reminded me how the composer had, over the twenty year period spanned by the eight symphonies, held true to Russian nationalist style. It remains very enjoyable and full of the eager invention. It’s the longest of his symphonies.
The incomplete Ninth was left in piano score and passed to a cousin of the pianist Mariya Yudina. He orchestrated the single movement in 1947-48. It has an Elgarian nobilmente and not unsurprisingly seems to be from the same notebook as the finale of the Eighth.
The Second Symphony is five minutes shorter than its successor . It was premiered at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris. The lugubriously romantic second movement recalls the Balakirev First Symphony.
The First Symphony is in the accustomed four movements with several moments particularly reminiscent of Rimsky and of Borodin. The invention is a step down from the finest symphonies and the finale occasionally succumbs to bombast.
Over the years there have been several recorded cycles of the symphonies. There’s rather good one from Rozhdestvensky (once available complete and slip-cased on Olympia OCD5001). Then again there’s Järvi’s 1980s cycle on individual discs on Orfeo (not reviewed here unfortunately). Otaka recorded the eight symphonies for Bis though the results were mixed. Polyansky recorded most of them for Chandos. Many of these, alongside some from Butt (ASV) and Otaka (Bis), found their way into a bargain-priced set from Brilliant Classics. Even the long-lost Fedoseyev Soviet (Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra) set can be had as an mp3 download via Amazon for as little as £5.99. Though not without merit the least attractive and sadly torpid cycle of the symphonies came from Naxos (Anissimov review review) although no company has recorded as much Glazunov. Svetlanov’s fine but long inaccessible set can now be had in a SVET box (review symphonies; review orchestral works).
The Brilliant box is inexpensive and deploys mostly Chandos sound quality. It’s pretty good though Polyansky can hit the occasional patch of lassitude. The Svetlanov SVET box can be difficult to source but may be too old-sounding and wild and woolly for some; I have not heard the Warner Svetlanov Edition box but that should be easier to access. Even with all that heritage, Serebrier and Warner have the finest modern premium price symphony cycle available.
No one has previously offered a set of the complete concertos. The rather uneven Naxos set using Russian forces included them but dotted around various CDs mixed in with other orchestral pieces.
Soloist and orchestra launch the Violin Concerto in a tender yet insinuatingly seductive way. They have a deeply fulfilling way with the solo filament and the orchestral canvas. Barton-Pine is an elite 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 the finale is done with ease. It sounds terrifying. It is totally fluent and utterly and intricately secure like a divine music-box – not machine-like. I would not want you to turn your back on Shumsky, Krasko or Sivo; the latter resplendent in 1966 Decca analogue stereo reborn by HDTT. However the more I hear Barton-Pine 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 Second Piano Concerto is a work written in 1917, a decade after the last complete symphony (No. 8). 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 siroccos of Tchaikovskian drama with the decorative delights of the Saint-Saëns concertos.
The longest concerto is the First Piano Concerto. It’s all storm, dancing delicacy and grandstanding blazon. If you love the Arensky and Scriabin concertos you must hear this. 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. Romanovsky has the necessary tempestuous command 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. It is touching, joyous, smoothly melancholy, whistleable and very distinctive. Here there are a few transient reservations: on occasions Chisson 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 Chant du Ménestrel is done with real pathos. The lovely little Reverie is a charmingly romantic brevity. Serov’s masterly French horn takes the role of serenading lover rather than buffoon huntsman. Barton-Pine is back centre-stage in the nostalgic Méditation, a work mildly in hock to the Siegfried Idyll. She 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 surrendered to lyrical inclinations. Its tunes are not as instantly catchy as those in the other concertos but it is not without drama. There are other capable recordings by Rudin (Naxos), Rostropovich, 1964 (EMI), Shallon (Koch Schwann 311 119 H1) and Yegor Dyachkov (Chandos CHAN 9528).
This set goes straight to the top of the recommended versions of the symphonies and concertos. It has no direct competition; no-one else has a single box with all the symphonies and all the concertos. The life-enhancing poetic spirit which suffuses and courses through these works is remarkable. It combines consistently inspired interpretative insights, Imperial Russian style and superb audio-technology. I cannot imagine these recordings being surpassed by a single conductor and orchestra (OK, two), so strong and sympathetic are they.
Earlier review of the symphonies alone – issued individually
Earlier review of the Concertos – 2 CD set
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Complete Symphonies and Concertos – Jose Serebrier
Full contents list:-
CD 1 [58.53]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, op. 33 (1890-92) [48:12]
Symphony No. 9 in D major, Unfinished orch. Gavriil Yudin (1909) [10:32]
CD 2 [77.48]
Symphony No. 2 in F sharp minor, op. 16 (1886) [43:22]
Symphony No. 1 in E major, op. 5, Slavyanskaya (1881) [34:17]
CD 3 [69.59]
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major op. 48 (1893) [33:31]
Symphony No. 7 in F major op. 77 Pastoral (1902) [36:21]
CD 4 [70.31]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major op. 55 (1895) [32:36]
The Seasons - ballet in one act - op. 67 (1901) [36:38]
CD 5 [66.48]
Symphony No. 6 in C minor op. 58 (1896) [35:51]
The Sea - Fantasy in E major op.28 (1890) [15:22]
Salome - Introduction and Dance op.90 (1908) [15:19]
CD 6 [78.50]
Symphony No. 8 in E flat major op. 83 (1905) [42:28]
Raymonda- suite from the ballet op. 57a (1898) [36:42]
CD 7 [56.11]
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 8 [57.48]
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]