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Russian Mysticism on a Grand Scale

June 6, 2013

by JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta

On 3 and 5 May 2013, the Buffalo Philharmonic undertook what was perhaps the most exciting recording project in their history—they recorded Glière’s Symphony No 3 (“Ilya Muramets”) for Naxos. The studio sessions were framed by concerts in Buffalo and by a thrilling concert in Carnegie Hall. Carnegie had invited the BPO to be featured on its prestigious Spring for Music series, particularly because of the Glière Symphony, and the performance was spectacularly well-received by a very large audience.

JoAnn Falletta and the BPO realised after they had programmed the Glière Third Symphony that they had actually chosen a true musical “cult” piece—a work that was deeply beloved, rarely performed, and a “destination” piece for people who travelled from all over to hear it. The work is unquestionably Glière’s finest work—his towering masterpiece—and reveals him as one of the greatest Russian composers of all time.

The symphony carries into the 20th century the great legacies of 19th-century Russia—an astonishing orchestral palette, gorgeous melodies, and powerful storytelling, creating a tapestry unequalled in its brilliance. The work was inspired by the beloved Russian folk hero Ilya Muramets, who lived during the 10th century and was a “bogatyr” (warrior) in the service of Prince Vladimir. The son of a peasant, Ilya was a weak and sickly young man until given an elixir of magic honey by the gods, transforming him into a hero. His exploits are vividly depicted in the symphony to spectacular effect. Ilya finds the greatest of the bogatyrs—the elderly Svyatogor—who bequeaths all of his powers to the young man. He challenges and defeats the evil Solovei in music of grand celebration. Glière is masterful as creating scenes of sheer poetry, revelling in the mysterious sounds of the forest, beautiful bird calls that enhance the magical atmosphere, and music of great sensuality and alluring and dangerous feminine beauty.

In the final movement, Ilya, drunk with the thrill of victory, boastfully asks for more enemies to annihilate. Heaven hears his cry and sends down an army of celestial soldiers, who, when struck down, actually multiply in frightening numbers. Ilya and his bogatyrs are defeated in music of incredible impact and, as they retreat, are turned into stone. After a cataclysmic climax, Glière recalls in the most beautiful fashion episodes from Ilya’s past, bringing this remarkable work to a quiet conclusion.

Due to its length (it is as long as a Mahler symphony) and its huge orchestral forces, the Third Symphony is rarely heard, and this powerful and mystical piece has developed a cult following of those who love the sumptuous musical tapestry and dramatic program of Glière’s masterpiece.

People travelled to Buffalo and to New York City from all over the country to hear the performance, and are eagerly awaiting the release of the Naxos CD.

The musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic embraced the gorgeous fabric of this extraordinary work and—from the solo contrabassoon to the nine courageous horns to the large string section and everyone else—performed the work with complete conviction, passion and high drama. It was a very memorable week for all of the members of the orchestra, and has become a high point in our BPO musical history.

The Buffalo Philharmonic performed and recorded the symphony complete and uncut, which allows the listener to appreciate the true genius of Glière’s architectural scope.

Tim Handley was once again the peerless producer for the orchestra, and the Philharmonic thanks him for his excellent work.

Photos from the performance
Conductor JoAnn Falletta
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in rehearsal with conductor JoAnn Falletta
Conductor JoAnn Falletta with producer Tim Handley
Tubist Don Harry and doublebassist Kieran Hanlon
Principal violinists Antoine Lefebvre and Jacqueline Galluzzo discuss bowings
The horn section warming up before the session
Concertmaster Michael Ludwig
Michael and JoAnn discuss recording strategy
JoAnn with General Manager David Crane
Photos from the studio session
Watch video from the studio session

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Biography & Discography

Reinhold Glière Biography & Discography


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