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ClassicsOnline Home » GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 14 - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Yablonskaya, Moscow Symphony, Yablonsky)
By Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
"GLAZUNOV has never really enjoyed the posthumous recognition he deserves, but over the past few years Naxos has certainly been doing its bit in trying to get his music more widely known. This disc is Vol 14 in a series of his orchestral works, and brings together the two piano concertos and the Variations on a Russian Theme that Glazunov wrote in contemporaries, including Rimsky-Korsakov and Lyadov.
"These affectionate performances by Oxana Yablonskaya and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra highlight not just the technical professionalism that Glazunov could always rely upon to get him through, but also the blend of lyricism and orchestral colour that distinguish his music at its most engaging. Neither the First Concerto (1910-11) nor the Second (1917) might have the strong melodic profile of a Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky, but they are works in the ripe Romantic tradition, with a breadth and grandeur of their own."
Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Piano Concertos Nos 1
& 2; Variations on a Russian Theme
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, from whom
he took lessons in composition. 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 performed.
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
Wagner's opponent, Hanslick, in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,
and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latter
was dismissed from his post at the Conservatory after showing open sympathy
with students who had joined liberal protests against official policies.
Rimsky-Korsakov was reinstated by Glazunov, now elected director of an
institution that, in the aftermath, had won a measure of autonomy. Glazunov
remained director of the Conservatory until 1930. In 1928, however, he left
Russia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he
remained abroad, with an initially busy round of engagements as a conductor,
finally settling near Paris until his death in 1936.
The Variations on a Russian Theme is a composite work, written in
honour of the tenth anniversary of Nikolay Vladimirovich Galkin's conductorship
of the concerts at Pavlovsk. It was first performed there on 4th July 1901. The
theme itself was chosen by Rimsky-Korsakov's youngest daughter, Nadezhda
Nikolayevna, from Balakirev's collection of traditional Russian folk-songs.
According to Vasily Vasilyevich Yastrebsev in his Reminiscences of
Rimsky-Korsakov, only Nikolay Sokolov had taken the task seriously, while
Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Glazunov had approached the work in lighter-hearted
fashion. Largely forgotten as a composer, Nikolay Artsybushev succeeded
Rimsky-Korsakov in 1907 on the Board of Trustees for Russian Composers,
established after the death of the publisher and benefactor Belyayev in 1904.
Rimsky-Korsakov regarded Artsybushev, a lawyer by profession, as a sound
businessman. His opening variation is in the style of a triumphant march. The
evocative second variation with its answering phrases, a version which
Yastrebsev describes as 'quite good', was by the Latvian composer Vītols,
a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and a professor of composition at the St
Petersburg Conservatory until the Revolution. Lyadov, the composer of the lively
third variation introduced by flutes and piccolo, was a colleague of
Rimsky-Korsakov at the Conservatory, while the latter's variation, introduced
by trumpets and clarinets, is compared by Yastrebsev to a traditional Russian bilina.
Nikolay Sokolov, a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and later teacher of
Shostakovich at the Conservatory, offers a finely crafted version of the
material and the set ends with Glazunov's Moderato maestoso, a stately
celebration of Galkin, well fitted to the occasion.
In 1910 Glazunov, as superstitious as many composers after Beethoven,
abandoned his Ninth Symphony and set to work on his First Piano
Concerto. In a letter of 21st June from his dacha at Ozerki he wrote to the
pianist Konstantin Igumnov, complaining of the difficulties he found in writing
the work, explaining that although he understood the piano, he found problems
in what to allocate to the orchestra and what to the soloist, adding that what
he found comfortable might not be so for the specialist. He dedicated the concerto
to Leopold Godowsky, who seemed satisfied with the work, and the first
performance was given by Igumnov on 24th February 1912.
The first movement opens with a chromatically descending melody, then
taken up and developed in a cadenza-like passage by the piano, leading to a
romantically lyrical theme and a dramatic climax. The soloist introduces a
slower E major theme, embroidering it when the orchestra takes up the theme.
The central development brings back the opening material and the lyrical theme
of the soloist is explored, before the recapitulation, in which the principal
themes return. The second movement offers a gently lyrical D flat major theme.
This is taken up by the soloist in the first variation, with muted strings. The
second chromatic variation is introduced by the soloist, while the third,
described as 'heroic' offers a bolder view of the material, with its dotted
rhythms. Lyricism returns in the Adagio fourth version of the theme,
with the direction con sentimento. A dynamic climax is followed by a
brief cadenza and a shift of key to C sharp minor for the Intermezzo. The
same key is used for the sixth variation, Quasi una fantasia, and in a
final passage marked a capriccio the soloist leads on to an A major Mazurka
with distinct echoes of Chopin. The following Scherzo, with its
embroidered piano sequences, also finds a place for a short cadenza.
The last variation, in F major, with its reminiscences of the first
movement, brings to an end a very Russian and thoroughly Romantic concerto.
Glazunov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B/E major, Op. 100, was first
performed on 29th October 1917 in the Small Hall of the Petrograd Conservatory
with S.V. Bentser as soloist. The work was given in Paris in December 1928 with
the pianist Elena Gavrilova, subsequently adopted by Glazunov as his daughter
after his marriage the following year to her mother, Olga Nikolayevna
Gavrilova. With the Sixth Symphony the concerto formed part of
Glazunov's programme at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in December 1929, with
Elena as soloist, and was repeated during their American tour.
Much of the concerto, played as one movement, is derived from the
opening theme, linked briefly to a secondary theme. An octave passage for the
soloist, a derivative of the main theme, is heard and there is a further
lyrical expansion of this material, before a cadenza relaxes into an F major Andante
that draws on the secondary theme. This is followed by an Allegro, based
on the principal theme, followed at once, with a further shift of key, by the
secondary theme, as the two thematic elements blend. The wind instruments
introduce an Allegro scherzando, before a tenderly felt version of the
romantic secondary theme makes its way to an Allegro moderato in which
the whole orchestra offers a triumphantly Russian E major version of the main
theme. The material is variously explored, lyrically and playfully, before the
finely crafted and thematically unified virtuoso concerto comes to an end.
Oxana Yablonskaya was born in Moscow and began her piano studies at the
age of five. She showed such gifts that at six she was accepted into the Moscow
Central School for Gifted Children where she was put in the care of one of
Russia's foremost teachers, Anaida Sumbatyan, who also taught Vladimir
Ashkenazy, working with her until the age of sixteen. From then until she was
21, Yablonskaya studied at the Moscow Conservatory with the legendary teacher
and pianist, Alexander Goldenweiser. At the age of 22, she studied with Tatiana
Nikolayeva and began teaching as her assistant at the Moscow Conservatory.
Following her graduation with highest honours, she won top prizes at the
Long-Thibaud Competition in 1963, the Rio de Janeiro Competition in 1965 and
the Vienna Beethoven Competition in 1969. She appeared extensively in the
Soviet Union and the Eastern-bloc countries and recorded for the Melodiya
label. In 1977 Oxana Yablonskaya emigrated to the United States and made her
first recital appearance to great acclaim four months later at Lincoln Center's
Alice Tully Hall. A sold-out Carnegie Hall concert followed and she has since
taken her place among the major pianists of the world. She has performed in the
world's major concert halls, including the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Orchestra
Hall in Chicago, Royal Albert Hall in London, and the Concertgebouw in
Amsterdam. Her international career has taken her to over thirty countries from
the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and most of Western
Europe, to the Orient, India, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1990, after a
thirteen year absence, she returned to Russia for a sold-out concert in the
Great Hall in St Petersburg and master-classes and recitals in the Moscow
Conservatory. She has since returned to Russia on a regular basis and continues
to be recognized as one of the élite piano virtuosos to come out of Soviet
Russia. Since 1983, she has held the post of Professor of Piano at The
Juilliard School in New York.
The cellist and conductor Dmitry Yablonsky emigrated to the United
States of America from the former Soviet Union in 1977, having already made his
orchestral début at the age of nine in Haydn's Cello Concerto in C
major. In America he studied at the Juilliard School of Music and at the
Curtis Institute and graduated from Yale University. His subsequent career has
brought concert appearances both in Russia and throughout Western Europe and
America, as a soloist with orchestras and conductors of great distinction and
in chamber music with musicians such as Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Repin, Boris
Berezovsky and with his mother, the pianist Oxana Yablonskaya. Dmitry Yablonsky
enjoys a parallel career as a conductor, having studied first with Yuri
Simonov. He has appeared with orchestras throughout Europe in this capacity and
was until 1999 Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra,
under whom he recorded over 60 CDs for Naxos and Marco Polo. Dmitry Yablonsky
enjoys an active career as a teacher. He has given masterclasses at, among other
institutions, the Moscow Conservatory, Rotterdam Conservatory, Tours Festival
in France and the Royal College in Dublin. Yablonsky is also the founder and
Artistic Director of the Puigcerda Summer Festival in Puigcerda, Spain.
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