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Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Divertimento on Themes from Bellini's La sonnambula (1832) [13:16]
Variations on a Theme by Mozart (1827) [4:46]
Nocturne in E flat (1828) [4:06]
Viola Sonata (1825-8) [17:01]
Serenade on Themes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena (1832) [17:13]
Bolshoi Theatre Soloists (Divertimento, Serenade)
Natalia Shameyeva (solo harp) (Variations, Nocturne)
Igor Boguslavsky (viola); Anna Litvinenko (piano) (Sonata)
rec. 1993, Moscow Conservatory, Russia
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94641 [56:22]

This collection of Mikhail Glinka's youthful chamber music is a lot of pleasant fun. All written by the time he was 38, for a variety of instrumental combinations, you could consider it practice for the days when he began forging a new “Russian” musical style. Here the influences are the late Viennese classical tradition of Mozart and Haydn, as well as Italian operas like the two he uses for material here.
 
Those operatic fantasies are the highlights, I think. The Divertimento on Bellini's La sonnambula and Serenade on Donizetti's Anna Bolena are each really enjoyable pieces, mixing up the tunes and delightful solos. With the Italians’ surprising boundless melodies, Glinka is able to choreograph great conversational exchanges around them all, the piano often taking a central role. Caution: the CD case is incorrect about the instrumentations; the bassoon, double bass, or horn are on track 6, not 1.
 
There are two works for solo harp, both very appealing and fairly short; Natalia Shameyeva is a good advocate for both the Mozart variations - on an aria by Papageno - and the nocturne, but she's been recorded in an acoustic that's jarringly different from and inferior to the rest of the CD. The viola sonata, which must be ground-breaking given how rare solos for that instrument were, is also unusual in that it's only two movements long, ending with a larghetto. This isn't by design; Glinka never got around to finishing the rondo finale.
 
Despite the reservation I mentioned about the sound quality of the harp recordings, and the general caveat that this is a re-release from 1993, this CD is worth recommending. The booklet essay far exceeds Brilliant's usual standards except for the error mentioned above, and the price is right. If you want to try an hour of diverting early-romantic chamber music, you can do a lot worse.
 
Brian Reinhart