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Film Music: The Neglected Art, May 2011

Written prior to his first symphony sometime around 1881 as a teenager the themes were taken from a series of collected melodies (Melodies populaires de Grece et d’Orient) published by Louis Bourgault-Doucoudray of material he collected during a journey through Greece in 1874 with the premiere being conducted by Anton Rubenstein. It is another example of the fascination of exploring exotic themes from other countries like Prince Igor, Scheherazade, or Islamey. From very early on in his composing career Glazunov had already developed his sound which offers wonderful arrangements and orchestrations and a unique Russian sound unlike anyone else. This reviewer for one is happy that Glazunov is being given the recognition that he is deserving of. When I first started listening over fifty years ago there wasn’t a lot of recorded material. Today that is not true as many orchestras have recorded him.

The opening theme is a slow methodical which immediately identifies that this is a Russian theme and one by Glazunov. The clarinet reveals the theme with nice touches from the harp. As it unfolds it leads us into a lively dance that has a hint of a Greek sound but definitely arranged otherwise. You can’t mistake this for anything but Russian! The oboe takes center stage as the second melody is introduced. You can now definitely hear the early influence that Balakirev had on his development. Keep in mind that Glazunov was but a teenager when he composed this orchestral use. I like the orchestration and how each section is included. At the end of the work it revisits the Adagio before coming to a rousing conclusion.

I found both recordings to be more than acceptable. While the Svetlanov recording has a bright sound, the Ziva benefits with a newer digital technology giving it a fuller feeling. Both Ziva and Svetlanov have studied and understand this composition equally well. The selection process would come down to cost and the desire for a six CD set that includes his symphonies or a single CD that is part of a nineteen CD collection from Naxos. Since I have and enjoy both I don’t have to choose. If I had to choose I would lean toward the Naxos recording as it offers his Triumphal March, two Serenades, and his ballet work Chopinana (Les Sylphides) an orchestral compilation of Chopin’s material.

#41 Glazunov collections on Warner Bros with Svetlanov conducting the Russian State Symphony Orchestra

Naxos #8.555048 with Vladimir Ziva conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra

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