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Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
The Red Poppy - complete ballet in three acts (1927) [108:04]
St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra/André Anichanov
rec. Concert Hall, St Petersburg Radio, 1994
NAXOS 8.553496-7 [50:21 + 57:50]

Reinhold Glière was Russian-born and of Belgian extraction. His maturity saw Russia's Imperial days but most of his life followed the 1917 Revolution. He died three years after Stalin and Prokofiev. There's no indication of his being a dissenter. For him there is no 'Testimony'. Unlike Medtner and Rachmaninov he did not flee to the West when the barricades went up.

His output is extensive. Most people with a serious interest in classical music know or know of his Ilya Mourametz symphony (the Third) usually recorded complete these days but once cut to LP length and shorter (Stokowski and Ormandy). Harold Farberman and Unicorn bucked the trend and recorded the whole thing in the late 1970s. There are tone poems, marches and concert overtures. Add to these string quartets and various ballets. His orchestral music has been harvested in and collected by Chandos and Edward Downes.

The story of The Red Poppy is set in a Chinese port. Dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with the captain of a Soviet cargo ship. She gives him a red poppy as a sign of her love. The manager of the club (Li-Shan-Fu) tries to pressurise Tao-Hoa to poison the captain. She will not cooperate. There is an uprising by the dockside coolies and Tao-Hoa saves the captain's life by getting in the path of a bullet fired at him by Li-Shan-Fu. As with all good Soviet ballets of that vintage and later, excuses are made for national dances. Add to these some sumptuous Western dances associated with the grand era 1890-1910.

The present two-disc account of Glière’s most famous ballet has been around for twenty-five years and until now has passed us by. As far as I can tell it's the first time the whole ballet has been recorded. It's more usually encountered in suite form. Yuri Fayer's extended sequence of movements taken down in 1963 and heard in part on an old Olympia OCD202 is very much the exception.

Across 36 instrumental movements Glière demonstrates his ease with received styles. Take Tao-Hoa's entrance and The Rose-Ship (CD1 trs. 3 and CD2 tr. 7) which is Tchaikovskian in the manner of Nutcracker. A chiming dusting of Chinoiserie returns in Dance of the Chinese Women (CD1 tr. 14) and Umbrella Dance (CD2 tr. 11). In Tao-Hoa's Entrance we also hear a singing instrumental line that is to return time and again. That recurrent melodic outline line recalls Amy Woodforde-Finden's Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar and does so fleetingly but unmistakably. This contrasts with the Grand Hotel frothy Gallic nonsense, decadence and nostalgia of Restaurant, Boston Waltz, European Dance (CD1 trs. 4, 6), Phoenix, Charleston and Dance in the Restaurant (CD2 trs. 5, 8, 9). This is music that when it is not aping Gaieté Parisienne resembles that of Barber's wonderful Souvenirs in its orchestral garb.

Russian exoticism à la Borodin and Balakirev can be heard in Malik's Dance (CD1 tr. 5). Interestingly, Coolies' Victory Dance (CD1 tr. 11) and Sword Dance (CD2 tr. 4) look forward to Khachaturian's breathless examples from Gayaneh and Spartacus. The second act Adagio and Prelude (CD1 tr. 16; CD2 tr. 1) has a Korngold-style luxury that meshes well with the sort of dreamy saturated romance of Franck's Psyché and Ravel's Daphnis. A grand Tchaikovskian apotheosis emerges across the final two pieces, illustrating a scene where the heroine, Tao-Hoa, dies and hands to a little girl a red flower symbolic of the renewing promise of Communism. The touching 'Shalimar' theme is tenderly intoned by solo violin, carried high by the violins and reiterated fortissimo with increasingly pulsating and imperious grandeur. Finally, it seems to entwine with the 'Internationale'. The vulnerable and the invulnerable meet. Sadly, that apotheosis is more bombastic than transcendental.

There is some tawdry gaud and corn among golden acres that offer much to enjoy. The tender Tao-Hoa theme is obstinately memorable - more so than the famed Sailors' Dance (Stokowski, Stokowski and Abravanel). The recorded sound and accompanying notes are more than decent.

Rob Barnett


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