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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Louis GLASS (1864-1936)
Symphony No. 5 in C major Op. 57 Sinfonia Svastika (1919-1920) [35:36]
Fantasy for piano and orchestra, Op. 47 (1913) [24:43]
Marianna Shirinyan (piano)
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie/Daniel Raiskin
rec. 2013, Rhein-Mosel-Halle, Koblenz CPO 777 494-2 [60:22]
This is volume 2 in CPO's complete cycle of Danish composer, Louis Glass's six symphonies. This Fifth Symphony is stunningly good as both music and performance. The earlier volume which includes the Third Symphony has been reviewed here and here.
It's not the first such cycle. As the few avid Glass enthusiasts will know, that honour fell to Danish label Danacord which, in the earlyish 2000s, arranged pioneering sessions with the Plovdiv Philharmonic conducted by Nayden Todorov. The other discs in that series are CD544 (Nos. 1 and 5), CD541 (No. 4), CD542 (Nos. 3 and 6), CD453 (Nos. 2 and Fantasia). These remain the only way to get to hear Glass's symphonies 1, 2 and 4 although as readings they were at times prone to an enervating torpor which has not helped them to make their way in the world. Part of the story - the part that counts against the Todorov cycle - can be found in the fact that the Raiskin reading of No. 5 (the finest of the six) takes 35:36 against Todorov's 41:37. There are several isolated discs outside these cycles. Marco Polo recorded the last two symphonies with Peter Marchbank and the South African Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra (1993, Johannesburg, 8.223486). There's also Launy Grøndahl with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra whose Glass 5, in less than succulent mono, from 1957 was in their double set of four late-Romantic Danish symphonies; again, that was on Danacord (review).
Late-Romantic Glass combines in the Fifth Symphony indelibly memorable ideas with a Tchaikovskian refulgence. Time after time his inspirations strike home and convince with searing sincerity. When this work is played 'on song', as it is here, nothing is better calculated to induce that frisson of excitement or to have you "air-conducting" with an abandon you may have doubted would ever return.
The Fifth Symphony is in four movements: I Dayswork; II Rest; III Shadows; IV Dawn. Dayswork has the vivacious rush of Elgar's In the South and Second Symphony but also there in the mix is Tchaikovsky spliced with Nielsen. The exultantly whooping horns in the first movement recall similar moments in Nielsen's Fifth. The movement's horn-lofted ecstasy could have been lent more immediacy in Raiskin's case but it's the most effective of all the commercially recorded versions. The other movements occupy seraphically contented Delian uplands, heat-hazed countryside days, dappled woodlands and the abandoned swoon of a dazzling dawn. Balletic material in symphonies can be hazardous but has been carried off with success in Tchaikovsky's Manfred and George Lloyd's Fourth. The third movement of Glass's Fifth does this also. My only criticism, in this case, would be the strangely unresonant and dead-sounding xylophone at 2:12.
In the gorgeously triumphant and superbly weighted finale Glass establishes a shuddering and shivering tension. Long-lined climactic statements are built, sustained, roughened and spun. The movement's darting upward and downward 'slashes' are reminiscent of Elgar's Second and pave the way for what amounts to a victorious sunset, squat and almost Baxian in its grip and grandeur.
The Symphony carries one tombstone around its neck. It is ominously entitled Sinfonia Svastika but Glass was no Nazi sympathiser. For a start consider his dates and the date of this symphony. The title here has nothing to do with the Swastika as arrogated by the Nazis. Glass intended to refer to the symbol for "good to be" or the Wheel of Life. It links with his theosophical sympathies. In this he was not alone. The following composers all had Theosophical leanings to one degree or another: Rubbra, Scriabin, Holst, John Foulds, Cyril Scott, Henry Cowell, Dane Rudhyar and fellow Dane, Rued Langgaard. The Swastika symbol also appears in Hindu, Brahmin, Jain and earlier cultures. If you frequent secondhand bookshops you will have seen it on the spine of many a Rudyard Kipling book. Kipling was steeped in Indian culture.
Apart from its commercial recordings the Fifth Symphony has been taken up by conductors Michael Schønwandt (1982) and Leif Segerstam (1990). When in years to come a Schønwandt Edition is being put together I do hope that his 1982 off-air broadcast with the Danish RSO will find a home there.
The other work here is Glass's Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra. It's an eccentric piece; something of a statuesque statement. It starts with a raw natural-world call-to-arms from the brass followed by a determined four-square piano solo. A ticking and dripping figure recalls the slow chattering dewdrop fall at the start of Bax's Spring Fire. There's a sentimental viola and piano duo at 4:30 and musing Fauré-like calm up to 09:00. More troubled and turmoil-rocked waters are at 9:26. These sound a little like the preamble to Berlioz's Marche au supplice. There's a triumphant passage for piano (10:53) and that sentimental melody voiced by the viola is heard again at 16:12 over the constant trilling of the piano. At 18:15 Glass returns to the persistently chugging note-cell heard at the start - a sort of Mobius loop in sound. The Fantasia has its fascinations but its currency can be counted in intrigue and interest rather than in glorious statement.
The excellent, tightly written note is in German and English and is by Claus Røllum-Larsen.
I hope that CPO and Raiskin will next give us the Brucknerian Fourth Symphony.
The Fantasy is an enigmatic oddity but this Fifth Symphony is played on-song with frisson-inducing excitement that hits home top-dead-centre. Trying not to air-conduct? Resistance is futile.