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ClassicsOnline Home » GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 7 - Symphonies Nos. 1, "Slavyanskaya" and 4 (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)
Remarkable 1st, Glorious 4th
The 1st Symphony was composed by a 16 year old student. But this does not present itself as the tentative beginning of a hopeful novice. The symphony bursts with the spring-like joy of youth and is full of wonderful melodies, striking rhythms and masterly orchestration. the first movement is, by turns, jaunty, lyrical and swaggering. The second scurries briefly along in very tuneful highspirits while the third becomes serious, languorous. The fourth brings the whole symphony to a brilliant conclusion with good helpings of Russian sounding folk tunes.
The Fourth Symphony is understandably more mature but nothing of the younger composer's love of melody has been lost with youth and his feel for the orchestra has intensified. This is a three movement work with a serious but gorgeously tuneful first movement. The second movement sparkles with jovial fun and,in the third,
a gentle andante leads to a boisterous allegro and a bold, brassy finale.
Glazunov was never up there with Tchaikovsky and the other Russian Greats. But these symphonies alone prove that he does not deserve the obscurity in which he now languishes. Here is a forgotten composer who deserves a fair hearing and he is given a very fair one in this Naxos series of which this recording of the 1st and 4th symphonies is just a beginning. The performances and recordings are excellent and booklet notes (a great advantage here) are available. If you like Russian music, believe me, you will get nothing more Russian than Glazunov. A few weeks ago Glazunov was just a name to me: now I am busily absorbing his works through downloading the wonderful recordings in this series. Go on, lend an ear to this most Russian of Russians!more....
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 5 'Slavyanskaya'
Symphony No. 4 in E nat major, Op. 48
It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to defend the reputation of
Glazunov. He belonged to a generation of Russian composers that was able to
benefit from more professional standards of compositional technique, absorbing
and helping to create a synthesis of the national, that might sometimes be
expressed crudely enough, and the technique of the conservatories, that might sometimes
seem facile. Glazunov worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whom Balakirev,
his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an important part in the
education of a new generation of Russian composers such as Shostakovich.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865,
the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child he showed considerable
musical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and hence Rimsky-Korsakov. By the age
of sixteen he had finished the first of his nine symphonies, which was
performed under the direction of Balakirev, whose influence is perceptible in
the work. The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The rich
timber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the first
performance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow to hear Rimsky-Korsakov
conduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscow rehearsals and his
meeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of a new informal association of
Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threat to his own position and
influence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russian nationalist composers.
Glazunov became part of Belyayev's circle, attending his Friday evenings with
Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday evening meetings. Belyayev
took Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the First Symphony was
In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of the Conservatory in St Petersburg,
but by this time his admiration for his teacher seems to have cooled. Rimsky-Korsakov’s
wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration for Tchaikovsky and Brahms,
suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of the critic Laroche, champion
of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of the nationalists, a man described by
Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent of Hanslick in Vienna, a comparison
that, from him, was not entirely complimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,
and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latter
had signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some element of democracy
in Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory students who had joined
liberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed from
the Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected director of an
institution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy. Glazunov
remained director of the Conservatory until 1930.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was held that he was able
to steer the Conservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty and
political turmoil, fortified in his task, it seems, by the illicit supply of
vodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then a student there.
Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution, he eventually
assumed a more substantial appearance again, compared by the English press to a
retired tea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimless glasses and
gold watch-chain. His appearance was in accordance with his musical tastes. He
found fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of Richard
Strauss, while the student Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with the
discords of his Scythian Suite. His own music continued the tradition of
Tchaikovsky and to this extent seemed an anachronism in an age when composers
were indulging in experiments of all kinds.
Rimsky-Korsakov left a brief description of the first performance of
Glazunov's First Symphony, the
rejoicing of younger Russian composers and the grumbling of Stasov, the
literary guide of the Five, disapproving, no doubt, of such a foreign form, and
then the surprise of the audience when a school-boy came out !o acknowledge the
applause. There were those prepared to hint that the symphony, dedicated to
Rimsky-Korsakov, had been written by another musician, hired for the purpose by
Glazunov's parents. Rumours of this kind were contradicted by the works that
followed. Belyayev arranged for publication of the symphony in Leipzig, and
this marked the beginning of the Belyayev publishing enterprise that proved so
helpful to Russian composers thus able to benefit from international copyright
agreements. The work opens with an Allegro in
6/8 metre, its lilting first subject followed by a second, duly in the dominant
key and entrusted to clarinets and bassoons. There are shifts of key, skilfully
manipulated, in the central development section of the movement, followed by a
recapitulation that varies the orchestration and proceeds to an emphatic coda.
The Scherzo that forms the second
movement, in the key of C major, is underpinned by an accompanying drone, in
folk-style, from lower strings and bassoons, while violas and clarinets provide
the first thematic element. The trio section,
in A flat, allows the flute to propose a Polish theme, taken up by the first
violins, before the transition is made back to the Scherzo itself, now mingled with reminiscences of the Polish
melody. Clarinets and bassoons start the E minor slow movement, with its
further suggestions of Slav thematic material. Violas and clarinets again
provide a drone accompaniment, in syncopated rhythm, !o a Polish theme from the
oboe. There are moments of relaxation and shifts of tonality in contrasting
episodes as the music moves forward, dominated always by the principal theme
that gives the movement its character.
Glazunov completed his Fourth
Symphony in 1893, a work dedicated to Anton Rubinstein, now nearing
the end of his life, a composer who had long seemed persona non grata to Balakirev and his friends, his very
name a synonym for kitsch. Rimsky-Korsakov, present at the first performance in
January 1894, found the orchestration cumbersome in places, particularly in the
third movement, but his disciple Vasily Vasilyevich Yastrebtsev writes with
approval of the symphony as marking a renaissance in Glazunov's creativity,
drawing attention to the pictorial nature of the second movement as a
reflection of Böcklin's painting Diana's Chase. The first movement starts with an
introductory, gently swaying Andante, of
obvious Russian provenance, with its opening cor anglais melody, leading
forward into an Allegro moderato that
seems to continue, often with greater intensity and excitement, a pastoral
mood, suggested by the rhythm of the music and its melodic content. The Scherzo opens brightly, with a rustic
dance, relaxing into a trio section,
and this is followed by an Andante of tender nostalgia, soon to be replaced by
the urgency of an excited Allegro, vigorous
in its energy, suggesting thematically, as does the whole symphony, something
of the spirit of the Caucasus region that was to provide a further element of
exotic inspiration in other works. The symphony ends in triumph, an example of
Glazunov's assured craftsmanship and powers of invention that could only add to
his already growing international reputation.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra was established in 1989 and is under the
direction of the distinguished French musician Antonia de Almeida. The members
of the orchestra include prize-winners and laureates of International and
Russian music competitions, graduates of the conservatories of Moscow,
Leningrad and Kiev, who have played under conductors such a Svetlanov,
Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky and Ozawa, in Russia and throughout the world. The
orchestra toured in 1991 to Finland and to England, where collaboration with a
well known rock band demonstrated readiness for experiment. A British and
Japanese commission has brought a series of twelve television programmes for
international distribution and in 1993 there was a highly successful tour of
Spain. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra has a wide repertoire, with particular
expertise in the performance of contemporary works.
A graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatory, the conductor Alexander
Anissimov completed his studies at Moscow Conservatory in 1972. After some
years as a conductor of the St Petersburg Maly Academic Opera and Ballet
theatre he was appointed in 1980 to the position of Conductor-in-Chief of the
Byelorussian Opera Ballet Theatre in Minsk, an appointment he now combines with
that of guest conductor at the Kirov Opera and of several foreign orchestras.
An active international career has taken him to engagements throughout the
former Soviet Union, Europe, the Far East and the Americas. He made his Wexford
Festival début with Cherevichki.
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