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Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Complete duets with cello
Eight duets for violin and cello, op.39 (1909) [16:20]
Ballade for cello and piano, op.4 (1902) [5:01]
Ten duets for two cellos, op.53 (1911) [22:06]
Twelve album leaves for cello and piano, op.51 (1910) [28:33]
Martin Rummel and Alexander Hülshoff (cellos)
Friedemann Eichhorn (violin); Till Alexander Körber (piano)
rec. Schloss Weinberg, Kefermarkt, Austria, 14 February (op.4), 7-8 July (op.39 and 53) and 22 December (op.51) 2011
NAXOS 8.572713 [72:03]

Reinhold Glière's name has always been most associated with his third symphony Ilya Muromets (1911) and, as a result, record companies have focused their interest largely on that epic and hugely enjoyable work.
In recent years, notable efforts by both Marco Polo and, especially, Chandos (see here) have made some headway in drawing the attention of the listening public to a few of Glière’s other orchestral works. His compositions in other fields remain largely unappreciated.
Now Naxos have come up with an album that very handily collects onto a single disc all the music that Glière wrote for duos where one cellist is joined by either another or a violinist or a pianist. The company’s price band encourages adventurous purchasers to investigate intriguing though unfamiliar new releases: after all, even if you don't enjoy the music, you’ve only lost the price of a couple of pints of beer. Even so, some potential buyers coming new to this repertoire might worry that works featuring nothing but two stringed instruments - especially when performed by two identical stringed instruments - will lack sufficient variety of colour and tone to sustain their listening interest.

Glière, however, is clever. Firstly, he holds our attention by constantly ringing the changes on style and form so as to ensure that each piece has an individual identity and to differentiate it from its neighbours. In the op.39 work for cello and violin, for instance, a rather questing and unsettling opening andante is nicely contrasted with a subsequent gavotte that is then followed in turn by a singing cradle song - and so it goes on. Secondly, he is careful to keep each individual piece compact, direct and very much to the point: apart from the op.4 Ballade for cello and piano that because of its greater variety of tonal colour is less likely to outstay its welcome, none is longer than 3:38 (op.53 no.3) and the shortest (op.53 no.4) clocks in at just 1:08.

Such a recipe might well suggest that, by stressing variety and brevity, these works run the risk of sounding disparate or disjointed but, quite apart from the composer’s own skill, the performers’ expertise here ensures that that never happens. In the two works for cello and piano, op.4 and op.51, Martin Rummel is the solo cellist and Till Alexander Körber the pianist. In op.39, Rummel and Alexander Hülshoff alternate the tracks - each playing four alongside their violin partner Friedemann Eichhorn. In the first five pieces of op.53, Hülshoff takes the first cello part and Rummel the second, before they reverse roles for the remaining five. All are clearly very accomplished performers and their clearly well considered collaborative enterprise has been almost entirely successful: in only a few tracks - such as the aforementioned cradle song which is, I think, a little too brisk and forthright - did I prefer a 1997 recording of op.39, op.53 and the twelve duets for two violins op.49 by the South African Chamber Music Society (Discover International DICD 920526).
Another interesting collaborative process is apparent, by the way, in the CD’s cover artwork. I have occasionally in the past been a little critical of Naxos covers on the grounds of their sometimes rather tenuous association with the music they “illustrate”. On this occasion, however, I noted in the (very) small print that this disc’s cover reproduces a painting by a clearly talented American artist named Mike Glier. In an subsequent exchange of e-mails, Mike told me told me that he is some sort of cousin of the composer, so it’s good both to give the Naxos design team a pat on the back for their thorough research and to report that the Glière family’s close involvement in the arts continues apace into the 21st century.
Listeners coming new to this disc with open, adventurous ears will be struck - unsurprisingly to others already familiar with Glière's oeuvre - by the composer’s considerable and characteristic gift for crafting attractive melodies. Those possessing a sweet musical tooth need only sample the Tchaikovskian op.4 Ballade that - always a sucker for a good tune - I found the undoubted standout track and well worth the sacrifice of those two of pints of beer.  

Rob Maynard