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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Welte Mignon Mystery - Volume XIX
Prelude Op.49/1 [2:25]
Prelude Op.25/1 (1888) [4:06]
Sonata No.1 in B minor Op.74: II Adagio (1901) [6:49]
Raymonda; ballet Op.57; excerpts (1897) [18:18]
Ruses d’amour (Pastorale Watteau); ballet, Op.61: Recitatif mimique, Gavotte and Sarabande (1900) [4:52]
The Seasons; ballet Op.67: Summer and Autumn, extracts (1899) [7:46]
Sonata No.2, Op.75 (1901) [21:20] ¹
Valse de concert in D, Op.47, transcribed by Felix Blumenfeld [8:43] ¹
Alexander Glazunov (piano, recorded on Welte Mignon piano rolls)
Artur Lemba (piano, recorded on Welte Mignon piano rolls) ¹
rec. piano rolls c. 1910
TACET 203 [75:07]

Experience Classicsonline



 
The latest in Tacet’s Welte Mignon transfers ventures to St Petersburg for the nineteenth volume. There are many reviews on site of previous volumes of this and other competing piano roll series, so those unfamiliar with the system, indeed systems involved, can find some technical assistance there.
 
Let’s just say, for those unfamiliar, that piano rolls are a minefield. All sorts of things come between the performer and the realisation of his performance via a modern instrument, in Tacet’s case a well-regulated Steinway: too many things, in truth, for anything much to be taken, even on trust. But in the case of composers and performers who never made studio discs, whether acoustic or electric, there can be some kind of compensation listening to their roll performances, albeit a huge amount of scepticism should be involved.
 
Which brings us to Glazunov, who was at the peak of his fame in 1910 when Welte Mignon came calling. He was then Directory of the Conservatory in St. Petersburg. Doubtless had Tchaikovsky still been alive, the company would have made straight for him. Glazunov’s piano technique was always rather sketchy for whilst he was an orchestrator of vast imaginative and pictorial gifts, as a pianist he was never a virtuoso. ‘Glazunov played the piano well, unconventionally but well’, his pupil Shostakovich recalled, even when - perhaps especially when - he kept a big cigar clamped between his fat sausage fingers.
 
Even so he played quite safe for Welte Mignon, offering largely light pieces. He must have declined to perform his Second Piano Sonata because though his name is on the box rolls, it’s actually played by Artur Lemba, born in Tallinn, who became one of the founding fathers of modern Estonian music. He was a piano professor at the time of Welte’s visit, so Glazunov was well placed to suggest him to the company for this extensive and quite demanding project. Glazunov’s technique would not have survived the challenge. I tend, cautiously, to agree with sleeve-note writer Christian Schaper who praises Lemba’s modern technique.
 
Glazunov’s performances show then typical old school traits such as desynchronous chording and rhythmic uncertainties, though some of these could easily have been introduced by the system itself. Still, there was clearly charm and wit in his piano playing. He performs only the slow movement from his First Sonata and extracts from Raymonda (rolled chords, arpeggios, grandeur, and deftness) and two brief extracts from The Seasons as well as baroque badinage from Ruses d’amour with its outsize Sarabande.

Glazunov never made piano disc recordings. He conducted and recorded The Seasons in London in 1929 for Columbia, an observer recalling that he looked like an affluent tea planter, even though he was suffering from gout. By then he had long been an exile from his native soil. His piano rolls, and those by Lemba, contentious though they are as musical documents, summon up a small element of his pre-Revolutionary musical life.
 
Jonathan Woolf  

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