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Jonathan Woolf
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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.55 (1895) [31:53]
Symphony No.7 in F, Op.77 (1902) [35:31]
Moscow Large Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Golovanov
rec. 1950-52

It can’t get much better than Golovanov conducting Glazunov - that is, if you’re sympathetic to the composer’s idiom and not allergic to recordings made in the early 1950s. If you fly through both questions then welcome to the typically dramatic and dynamic sound-world of a conductor for whom Glazunov’s idiom was part of his expressive, nationalist arsenal.
Historically-minded collectors won’t need reminding that the eminent Konstantin Ivanov recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic, nor will those more up-to-date with their discographies be unaware that Neeme Järvi’s Bamberg symphonic cycle has transferred well to CD, as has Tadaaki Otaka’s for BIS. You will forget at your peril Svetlanov’s USSR Symphony cycle that has been issued from a variety of sources, not least SVET, issued by the Svetlanov Foundation. Also we have Serebrier’s outstanding cycle recently issued as a complete set with the concertos. With all of that in the background, there’s no getting away from the fact that Golovanov’s are products of Melodiya’s early post-war years and that there are some sonic impediments to enjoyment. Those who can take them on the chin, will enjoy the powerful basses in the opening of the Fifth Symphony and will marvel too at the conductor’s command of pacing and peroration alike. His well-scaled dynamics are evident in the second movement, which he takes with a real sense of dynamism - it’s possibly the fastest on record - which ensures sufficient intoxication for the ensuing slow movement. The lyric surging that Golovanov locates gives the music terrific impetus and expressive drama and its Wagnerian element is justly evoked. Others are slower - Järvi, Svetlanov - but they are not cumulatively more powerful. This, one feels, is how the Anglo-Russian dynamo Albert Coates would have conducted Glazunov.
For the Seventh Symphony Glazunov turned to Beethoven’s Pastoral for his Elysian inspiration. Golovanov is nowhere near as fast as Järvi, but he is consistently faster than Svetlanov. Everything, meanwhile, about Golovanov’s reading is magnetically controlled. Connoisseurs can enjoy the sleazily saxophonic Russian brass in the noble slow movement - to me it only enhances the mood - and there’s plenty of Tsarist grandeur throughout the blazing finale - but one that’s taken at a sensible pace.
Arlecchino’s old transfer of the Seventh on ARLA60 is more strident and crumbly than this Historic Recordings transfer, which is also somewhat clearer in perspective. I much prefer it. No notes as per usual from this company, just a card inlay.
Jonathan Woolf