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8.553932 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 11 - Concerto Ballata / Chant du menestrel (Rudin, Moscow Symphony, Golovschin)
English 

Alexander Konstaninovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Concerto Ballata, Op. 108; Chant du ménestrel, Op. 71
Two Pieces for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 20
A la mémoire de Gogol, Op. 87; Ala mémoire d'un héros, Op. 8

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 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 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 unti11930.

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 to 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 marked the beginning of what promised to be a remarkable career.

Glazunov left Russia in 1928 in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, with a busy round of engagements as a conductor, finally settling in Paris in 1932 until his death four years later. The Concerto Ballata was written in 1931, three years before his Saxophone Concerto and is dedicated to Pablo Casals. It is introduced by the cello alone, leading the narrative until a passage of orchestral excitement intervenes, with an Elgarian melody of descending sequences for the soloist, echoed by the orchestra in some agitation. Elements of the opening are followed by an A flat major passage marked Tranquillo, followed by an Adagio, quasi ballata, as the tale unwinds. A C minor cadenza allows the cello to continue the story, finally in terms of great simplicity, before another, longer cadenza. There follows an Allegro marciale, then an Allegretto scherzando, which breaks off. The final section follows, with an air of defiant optimism, its final section accompanied by the cello in continued double-stopping, ending a work of sure and skilled craftsmanship.

The Chant du ménestrel (‘Minstrel's Song’) was written in 1900, a poignant minstrel's song, with a change of mood in the central section, before the woodwind returns with the first melody. The Two Pieces for cello and orchestra are still earlier, dating from 1887 and 1888. The Mélodie is delicately orchestrated, always giving due prominence to the cello melody-line. The Sérénade espagnole (‘Spanish Serenade’) makes use of a harp and plucked strings in its orchestration, an accomplished Russian evocation of Spain, perhaps a recollection of Glazunov's visit to that country with Belyayev in 1884.

Glazunov's tribute to Gogol is described as a symphonic prologue and was written in 1909, the centenary of the writer's birth. It opens in sombre Russian style, before moving into a mood of more tender recollection, with a final hymn to form the substance of the grandiose closing section. The homage to an anonymous hero was written in 1885, when the composer was twenty, and has the sub-title Elégie. It takes a generally elegiac course, with Russian thematic material, from its opening in C sharp minor and motivic development in assured counterpoint until its final mood of calm optimism. The whole work is a demonstration of Glazunov's early mastery of the techniques of composition and his natural use of Russian melody.

Keith Anderson


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