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ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) Symphony No. 4 (1893) [32.16] Symphony No. 5 (1895) [34.45]  Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky recorded Moscow April and November 1997 CHANDOS CHAN 9739 [67.08]




We too easily forget Glazunov's world-wide success. His symphonies in particular had repeated performances during the 1890s and 1900s in the USA and especially in the UK. Glazunov himself travelled widely to conduct these works. Sir Henry Wood in London was a strong advocate and a staggering number of multiple performances were given conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth. Gradually in the 1960s through the export of various Melodiya performances Glazunov's star began to rise from the abyss into which it had sunk. Ivanov and Fedoseyev had LPs issued in the UK via EMI. Later a reputedly very fine set (reckoned by the Glazunov Society to be THE reference set and sadly unheard by me) was recorded by Evgeny Svetlanov and these were issued on Melodiya CDs during the early 1990s. Regrettably they seem to have disappeared now. The Rozhdestvensky set on Olympia is well worth hearing but the level of aural refinement is not a patch on the present recordings.

No. 4 is, unusually for Glazunov, in only three movements. The first has a fine rangy oriental romance which meets Tchaikovskian delirium. Indeed Tchaikovsky is often a presence in both symphonies. The second movement is a buzzing and dancing scherzo where icy woodwind chatter in carefree delight. The speed is so fast that I thought that co-ordination slipped in the first couple of moments. These doubts were soon banished as the balletic music self kindled in joyous celebration worthy of Glazunov's more popular ballet The Seasons. The finale's trampling Cossack charge is all excitement and grandeur. The brass echo-effects (horns to trumpets) are truly exhilarating.

Symphony No. 5 is one of Glazunov's most popular symphonies. It has catchy themes and is amongst the most dramatic of the nine. In Polyansky's hands however the broad approach sometimes teeters over the edge into languor. This is noticeable in the first movement and somewhat in the fourth and final movement. At these points the performance would have benefited from a tauter and snappier direction. Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony is a clear influence with its admixture of ballet and drama. The second movement is again balletic resorting to flashy display which conveys sincerity and is not at all meretricious. The big romantic theme may well have inspired Prokofiev's Classical Symphony (1914). Listen carefully you may be surprised. The delicate emotional pastels of the andante are glowingly done. The finale's Russian Easter Festival is as explosive as Tchaik 4 but here is taken with a rather broader pacing. It could have taken more accelerator. That said the lightning flashes and the thunder crashes in a contest in which richly Rimskian darkness meets Tchaikovsky's emotional fever. Another familiar voice (at 2:33) is Rachmaninov's First Symphony (the disastrous premiere of which was presided over by Glazunov). In the crashing finale Polyansky recaptures the nervy invigoration.

Some reservations then but my how Polyansky and his orchestra articulate this music. Chandos have a winner on their hands in terms of the subtly-lit strength of this pair of performances. I restlessly await the remaining symphonies and especially numbers 6 and 8. Will they be on a single disc? A series to follow closely.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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