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8.553928 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 14 - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Yablonskaya, Moscow Symphony, Yablonsky)
English 

Alexander 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 entirely complimentary.

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.

Keith Anderson

Oxana Yablonskaya
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.

Dmitry Yablonsky
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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