About this Recording
8.553769 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5 - Symphonies Nos. 2 and 7, "Pastoral" (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)
English 

Alexander Glazunov (1865 -1936) Symphonies Nos

Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)

Symphonies Nos. 2, Op. 16 and 7, Op. 77

Glazunov was born in Tsarist St Petersburg, the son of a well-known publisher and bookseller. Showing a precocious aptitude for music, with a total recall and gift for reconstruction that was said to have been legendary, witness his supposed rescue job on Borodin's Prince Igor, he was early on discovered by Balakirev, founding father of the nationalist Five or Mighty Handful, before being taken up by Rimsky-Korsakov with whom he studied composition and theory, and whose orchestral arsenal was to be a life-long model. He also received encouragement from Liszt. Famous across Europe as composer and conductor, albeit an indifferent one, he became Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory in December 1905, devoting his energy for the next quarter of a century to its academic, administrative and pastoral well-being, and numbering among his later students Shostakovich. In 1928, embittered by the consequences, hardship and deprivations of New Order communism, and unwilling any longer to play political chess or become involved in factional infighting, he left his country, ostensibly to attend the Schubert centenary commemorations in Vienna but effectively to escape. Relinquishing his directorship of the Conservatory in 1930, he settled in Paris two years later, "respected, but not... much loved... not really knowing for whom and for what he was writing", as Shostakovich said. Published by the millionaire benefactor Belyayev, his copious output, dating mostly from the period between the deaths of Mussorgsky (1881) and Scriabin (1915), included eight completed symphonies (1881/82-1906), four concertos for violin and for piano, three ballets, a number of choral works, seven string quartets, and a pair of piano sonatas.

 

Even more than Tchaikovsky, the best of whose poeticism he absorbed, Glazunov was a vital link between the musical traditions of oriental Russia and occidental Europe. As a selfless, musically enriched, musically enriching teacher, an unbiased humanist, he exposed himself to countless stylistic by- roads in the work of his students. He delighted in going back to Josquin and Palestrina, and he so powerfully "spent all his time thinking about music [that] when he spoke about it, you remembered for life", according to Shostakovich. But what, in the end, did this do for his own expressive voice? Did he pay the price of being an educator, substituting professional gloss for inspirational gold? Was he a flaming, up-to-date, progressive Russian nationalist who faded into a burnt-out, old-fashioned, retrogressive European Brahmsian? Was he a man simply swept aside by more radical newcomers, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev? Certainly he has had his defenders. "To him the transformation of themes is as easy as his art of orchestration; and is limited only in two ways. He will not make a pedantic transformation, nor will he transform his own themes into other people's" CTovey)." Strong personality and fine imagination" CCalvocoressi). "A master of the art" CShostakovich). But he has also had his critics. Only two years after his death, the English Slavophile Gerald Abraham could generalise of him as a Borodin/Rimsky clone who had "degenerated into a fluent, prolific, agreeable note-spinner whose music is neither very national nor very personal nor very significant in any respect whatsoever". Typical of much latter-day reaction is the suspicion, perpetrated by the same few yet repeated by many, that all he left was "music of a fluent and charming order... [lacking in] any touch of genius... [possessing] the deeply conservative temperament of a Spohr or a Saint-Saens ...his career ...leaves the same, rather sad impression made by other precocious artists who failed to develop after early youth ...a sentimental, perhaps rather feminine soul, addicted to sugary harmony and a persistent abuse of the appoggiatura" CSackville-West / Shawe-Taylor, The Record Guide, 1955 edition). He once had a glittering reputation, but, in the years since, his music has more often been reviled than revived, largely denied that place in the repertoire once so confidently predicted for it by Henry Wood.

 

Dating from between Tchaikovsky's Manfred and Fifth Symphony, Glazunov's Second Symphony in F sharp minor, Op. 16 (1886) was dedicated, like Saint-Saens's contemporaneous Third Symphony, to the memory of Liszt, whose spirit is recalled in the flamboyant brass climaxes and the Mephistophelean countenance of the nervy scherzo. Stylistically, it is otherwise broadly rooted in the old-world revolutionary nationalist ideals of (generally) Balakirev and (particularly) Borodin, notably his epochal, banner- waving B minor Symphony. This is especially apparent from the archaic Russian mood of the first movement's slow introduction, and the central Asian oriental turn of the Andante. The finale, despite its prophetic polyphony, is of a lesser order.

 

In the dawning of the new century" Alexander Glazunov reigned supreme in the science of the symphony. Each new production of his was received as a musical event of the first order, so greatly were the perfections of his form, the purity of his counterpoint, and the ease and assurance of his writing appreciated... I shared this admiration whole-heartedly, fascinated by the astonishing mastery of this scholar" (Stravinsky, Chroniques de ma vie, Paris 1935). The Seventh Symphony in F major, Op. 77 (1902, the so-called Pastoral) unfolds Glazunov's feeling for Germanic music and classical thought, its first movement alluding specifically to the thematic world and rustic sound of Beethoven's own Pastoral, as well as the wider associations of classico-romantic F major pastoralism. In common with the C minor examples of Taneyev (1898) and Scriabin (1901) it seeks also to establish a structural overview distinct from the sectionalised approach of earlier Russian composers, albeit one less exclusively sonata-orientated. "More by instinct than by premeditated intention I wanted to combine variation form (which latterly I have come to love passionately) with sonata and rondo forms and to build my music more on contrapuntal than harmonic bases" (letter to Taneyev). By common consent the first movement is the best, the finale the least successful in its mosaic effort to organically summarise preceding events. The chorale-like Andante, with its lyrical D major cantilena episode and decorative variation, is demonstrably linear. In the Mendelssohn / Reger tradition, Glazunov, like Taneyev, was a skilled practitioner of the "learned" style, adroitly "capable of devising fugatos with lives of their own" (David Brown 1993). In the longer of his two autobiographies, published posthumously in Moscow in 1973, Prokofiev recollected hearing Glazunov conduct the work at the Conservatory in 1907: it "seemed pallid to me: made but not composed. But Rimsky-Korsakov, who was sitting in the front row at the rehearsal with the score in his hands, was delighted and kept praising it. (1 must admit that later, when I played a four- hand arrangement of it with Myaskovsky, I liked it better -especially the first movement)".

 

@ 1996 Ates Orga

 

 


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