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John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, April 2010

GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 18 - Masquerade / 2 Pieces / Pas de caractere / Romantic Intermezzo (Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky) 8.570211
GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 19 - Les Ruses d'amour (Iasi Moldova Philharmonic, Andreescu) 8.572447

The play Masquerade inspired a number of Russian composers…the lovely incidental music for the four acts of the play mostly depict the glittering environment of the balls…

Performance and sonics…are high quality. It’s such a relief to have all current recordings coming out of Russia in excellent fidelity today; unlike the mostly atrocious quality of Soviet-era recordings.

The Romanian State Orchestra…sonics are good…

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, March 2010

The Russian Philharmonic shows off its solo and sectional virtues repeatedly in this colorful music, and to good advantage…this is an expansive, attractive performance, and likely to be the best we have for some time to come…this album offers good sound, and attractive readings. Recommended.

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, November 2009

The op. 14 pieces are delicately scored and atmospheric early works, clearly influenced by the Balakirev school’s fondness for sweeping melodies and faux orientalism, while the Romantic intermezzo both fully and attractively lives up to its name and also showcases a composer who has, by his mid-30s, succeeded in establishing a rather more individual—and westwards-looking—style.

We must be grateful to Naxos for its decision to give us, over the past 14 years, such a well-rounded—and, I trust, still developing—picture of Glazunov’s oeuvre…performances that are quite exemplary. The Gnesin Academy Chorus is clearly an accomplished and well-drilled body that sings beautifully and idiomatically, while Dmitry Yablonsky and the orchestra, beautifully recorded, do their considerable best…

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, November 2009

It seems truly remarkable that anyone could come up with a work by Alexander Glazounov that has never been recorded before—no, not even by Svetlanov. Gramophone many years ago announced among its New Releases a Chandos by Polyansky and even gave a record number (9931), but no such recording has come to light.

Here we have a newly discovered sequence of (mostly) tableaus and pantomimes for Mikhail Lermontov’s Masquerade that date from 1912–13, some 30 years before the far better known Khachaturian suite. Lermontov’s play is a thinly disguised setting of Shakespeare’s Othello, telling of a jaded aristocrat, one Evgeny Arbenin, who has become thoroughly disgusted with the decadence of St Petersburg high society and rails against the emptiness of life, which he sees as “a masquerade ending in death”. Brooding and suspicious by nature, Arbenin is all too willing to believe his wife Lily has betrayed him with another man; incensed, he accuses her to her face on the flimsiest of evidence and haughtily dismisses her tearful protestations. Tormented by jealousy, Arbenin poisons his wife and is driven to insanity when he learns—too late—of her innocence.

The notes describe the stage action in considerable detail but make no attempt to link the music to the goings-on; in fact, Keith Anderson admits “it is not always easy to place the 26 numbers in their exact dramatic context”. Moreover only six of them are longer than two minutes, while the second act apparently has no music at all. Standouts are a ‘Mazurka’ and ‘Polonaise’ that might have come from the Scènes de Ballet, while one prominent chromatic motif first heard in the third Pantomime (track 4) sounds very much like Glazounov’s music for Oscar Wilde’s Salome written around the same time. Our Editor informs me that the ‘Chiming Clock’ heard in the flute and muted cymbals (track 17) is actually by Bortniansky and may also be found in American hymnals. Most curious of all—and apparently quite unbeknownst to Mr Anderson, who makes no mention of it—is the ‘Valse-Fantaisie’ from Act III that even the casual listener will surely recognize as Glinka, though overlain by the Salome motif near the close. The chorus wafts wordlessly in and out until Act IV—when the distraught Arbenin finally learns of his wife’s innocence—where they offer a moving a cappella hymn—not identified in the notes either (part of the Vespers perhaps)? For the rest, we have sundry mercurial mood shifts and fleeting flashes of color that change seemingly at whim like some magical kaleidoscope, living entirely for the moment just like the mindless hedonists who disport at Lermontov’s masked ball.

We may actually find more of substance in the fillers, beginning with the gently lilting Idylle—the first of Glazounov’s Two Pieces dating from 1886 (when he was 21). It already glows with the lustrous melody familiar from his later works, including Spring and Poème Lyrique and the Intermezzo Romantico offered here. Its companion piece, Rêverie Orientale, centers around a sinuous melody by the oboe that recalls Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Antar, only near the close rising above a seductive sigh. Yablonsky caresses both pieces far more captivatingly than the turgid Svetlanov; on Marco Polo Horia Andreescu phrases warmly but his Romanian ensemble can’t match the Russians. Svetlanov’s sharply contrasting tempos in the Hungarian-styled rhythms of the brief Pas de Caractére complement Yablonsky’s more laidback approach; while at 7:41 Antonio de Almeida (Marco Polo; Nov/Dec 1987) paints the Intermezzo Romantico in more vernal colors compared to the bittersweet yearning of Yablonsky at 11:09, followed closely by Odisseiy Dimitriadi (Olympia) and of course Svetlanov. My only cavil is that there was room for Yablonsky to complete the picture with the Scéne Dansante, even if it meant duplicating the Anissimov (Naxos; Nov/Dec 1998); but I’m very excited to finally have Glazounov’s Masquerade, and the warm, detailed backdrop makes it all the more indispensable.

Frank Behrens
Art Times, October 2009

Incidental Music to “Masquerade” is Restored—For lovers of Russian music as it was before the Revolution, the works of Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936) can stand as excellent examples of stirring scores that reflect the past history of Russia and the splendor of the courtly under the Tsars.

For example, the Naxos CD of “Masquerade (Incidental Music)” expands on the “Masquerade Suite” that has so often filled in recorded collections of Russian scores. Asked to compose music for the play “Masquerade” by one Lermontov, Glazunov obliged with 26 very short pieces that introduced a new act or accompanied pantomimes and dances. Existing only in manuscript form, the score offers a challenge to any conductor who has to place them in what might have been the order played during performances of the play.

Even if some are out of place, the score on this CD is quite enjoyable—never quite reaching to the heavens as Tchaikovsky’s could do, but competent for what they were supposed to accomplish. The program notes give a summary of the plot, which might help some. Most will just enjoy the music on its own terms.

To flesh out the 67-minute disc, three other Glazunov pieces are included: “Two Pieces, Op. 14,” “Pas de caractere, Op. 68,” and “Romantic Intermezzo, Op. 69.” The Gnesin Academy Chorus and Russian Philharmonic Orchestra are conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky.

George Dorris
Ballet Review, October 2009

It’s tuneful, attractive, and often balletic…The four accompanying “characteristic pieces” are in the same pleasant vein, all well performed by these Mosco forces.

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, September 2009

Glazunov is not quite as well known as some of the other Russian composers active almost a century ago. After studying with Rimsky-Korsakov, he eventually was regarded as one of the circle of Russian composers that somehow combined a bit of the others better attributes into some of his compositions. He can be counted on, as with other Russian composers of his era, to give us attractive and very melodic music—no harsh modernistic compositions. Here the featured incidental music to an earlier play is almost immediately appealing, melodic in the extreme and simply out going and uplifting. It is simply meant to be enjoyed for the most part. Colorful scoring, common among other Russian nationalist composers, is abundant here.

Fortunately the Naxos recording delivers their increasingly common fine, solid audio qualities without noticeable faults. Adding distinctive and very attractive accents and atmosphere is the fine choral accompaniment at very appropriate times. Yes, this is appealing music that can easily appeal to classical music newcomers. Look closely at the titles of the other shorter pieces offered here. The words in the titles are accurate descriptions of the aural effects of the flowing longer lines of music they contain, Idylic, Reverie and Romantic. A reasonable introduction to Glazunov’s music, though not his best known compositions, offers listeners a fine variety for listening pleasure. A very enjoyable release with excellent orchestral playing, excellent choral accents and a fine recorded audio quality makes recommendation easy.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, September 2009

…The Russian Philharmonic this time under the baton of Dmitry Yablonsky…is neat and alert with some aptly characterful solos taken when required. The recording too is clear and warm without some of that glassy resonance that occasionally afflicts the engineering from this source. Most interestingly added to the mix is the Gnesin Academy Chorus. More of their role in the music later but enough to say that they sing well and blend into the musical textures effectively.

The main work here is the thirty-six or so minutes of incidental music Glazunov wrote for a 1917 staging of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1835 play Masquerade. Keith Anderson’s detailed liner-note explains that this significant score by Glazunov existed only in manuscript. Confusion is compounded by the fact that the exact musical sequence and how they relate to the play is unclear. Hence we have a detailed synopsis of the play and in parallel a musical sequence that is satisfying in itself but not necessarily one that follows the action of the play. The problem arises from the fact the much of the score provides music for the various balls that constitute many of the scenes. Glazunov has composed a score that is both practical—as in the dance sequences above and emotionally illustrative, seemingly underlining the prevailing mood or emotion of a scene. The score is divided into twenty-six tracks running from a miniature fife and drum march lasting just seventeen seconds to a full blown Valse-Fantasie at five and a half minutes. The latter is authentic Glazunov, very much in the style of the similar movement from Raymonda or the Concert Waltzes. It could be argued that this continuity/similarity is both Glazunov’s strength and his weakness. Really it could date from any point during his compositional career and certainly as a piece dating from 1917 breaks no musical frontiers—although why should it if the requirement is for a romantic waltz. Glazunov’s fabled orchestral mastery is on display throughout—the previously mentioned fife and drum is a perfect example how just two instruments are used to perfect effect (track 14 – Pantomime 8). Elsewhere the greatest musical interest is provided in the movements featuring the chorus. The very opening track is instantly atmospheric and full of foreboding—the synopsis makes it clear that this is a dark and tragic play with echoes of Eugene Onegin and Othello. This is sung to great effect by the Gnesin Academy Chorus with a definite Russian colour to their sound that feels absolutely right although lacking that last ounce of deep implacable resonance. Apart from the cantatas used as fillers on Valery Polyansky’s cycle of the Glazunov Symphonies on Chandos there have not been many opportunities to hear Glazunov’s writing for voices. I particularly like the way he uses them colouristically on occasion. Elsewhere they sing a text in traditional style. Act IV of the play depicts the final descent into madness and death of the Othello-like character Arbenin. The music accompanying Act IV Scene 1 here (track 22) is a marvellous unaccompanied chorus. Sadly there is no text given in the liner notes. It is sung with a beautiful tonal blend and sensitivity—a real highlight of the disc—but I have no idea what they are saying. The tracks have been well sequenced so that the movements flow one to another—very important with many short cues. This is an excellent addition to the Glazunov discography. One interesting and diverting thought; Khachaturian’s suite Masquerade is also incidental music written for a 1941 production of the same play. Given the synopsis outlined by Keith Anderson I am even more at a loss as to how Khachaturian’s riotously good humoured music—at least as far the suite is a sample—fits!

The rest of the disc is filled with judiciously chosen pieces. Naxos has consistently shown considerable care and imagination with the couplings in this series and this disc is no exception. None of the music is revelatory or startling but in style and mood they match well. The two pieces forming Op. 14 are slight and charming and beautifully played here. Likewise the dance fragment that is the Pas de caractére Op.68. The largest single piece on the whole disc is the Romantic Intermezzo Op.69 which in turn is also the most familiar piece. It has appeared as a filler for part of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky’s symphony cycle on Olympia as well as Evgeny Svetlanov’s similar traversal on Melodiya. The title says it all—a lyrical slow movement in all but name it receives another sympathetic performance here although one that tends to the lugubrious. It runs about a minute longer than either of the other named versions.

To summarise: an automatic purchase at this price for anyone with an interest in this composer or the byways of theatrical music. The comparison with Khachaturian’s suite is quite fascinating—two such varying responses to literally the same text. It is better engineered than some in this series and is conducted and played with sympathy and insight.

Appealing yet very rare music performed with great aplomb.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, August 2009


The Naxos CD has something new—the first recording in recent memory of over half an hour of incidental music written for a popular nineteenth century Russian play…The Naxos disc is the eighteenth volume in their ongoing series devoted to Glazunov’s orchestral works, and it contains some real rarities. The most noteworthy is the first modern recording of incidental music used for a 1917 production of Mikhail Lermontov’s (1814–1841) play Masquerade (1836). The drama is a tragedy that’s in many ways a Tsarist Othello, and was apparently a biting criticism of contemporary society—so much so that it was banned for thirty years!

Composed in 1912–13, the music calls for chorus as well as orchestra, and has come down to us only in manuscript. When heard without the play the twenty-six numbers comprising it form an amazingly coherent, extended suite that constitutes a major Glazunov find. Bravo Naxos!

Right from the respectively dreamy and then bouncy opening two selections for vocalizing chorus with orchestra [tracks 1 and 2], one knows this is going to be a different Glazunov listening experience. The following sixteen numbers [tracks 3 through 18] are for the most part optimistic, with the ninth [track 9] sounding almost like something Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) could have written. Generally speaking these little gems will remind you of Alexander’s best ballet scores, i.e. Raymonda (1896–97), Les Ruses d’amour (1900) and The Seasons (1899). But the next one [track 19] will raise a few eyebrows, because it’s a shortened version of Mikhail Glinka’s (1804–1857) Valse-fantaisie (1856)! Although the album notes give a detailed description of the stage action, there’s no mention of this. But it seems likely it was the featured music for the second of two ball scenes.

The concluding seven numbers [tracks 20 through 26] are much darker, and become increasingly anguished to a degree reminiscent of Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) in his more agonizing moments. There are what sound like a couple of Russian religious folk laments sung by the chorus [track 22 and 25], which must have added significantly to the tragic atmosphere of the drama. The last selection [track 26] radiates a few melodic shimmers of Glazunovian hope just before this highly dramatic incidental suite ends in a final measure of despair.

Incidentally, there’s a song Nina (the Desdemona in this drama) sings in the third act, which is not included here. Written in 1916, it was a late addition for the 1917 production of the play, and became one of Glazunov’s most popular vocal pieces. It was later published as his Romance de Nina (Op. 102).

The program continues with Two Pieces for Orchestra entitled “Idylle” and “Rêverie orientale.” Written in 1886 they show what a superb melodist and orchestrator Glazunov was even at the tender age of twenty-one. The first piece paints what sounds like a pastoral scene bathed in autumnal light given off by the French horns. The second lives up to its name with plaintive solo passages for the woodwinds that make it all the more exotic. Strangely enough the beginning presages Frederick Delius’ (1862–1934) Over the Hills and Far Away (1897), while the main body of the work recalls the Antar Symphony (No. 2, 1868, revised 1875 and 1897) by Glazunov’s colleague and good friend Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908).

Next up, Pas de caractère (1899), which was composed the same year as The Seasons, and sounds like something the composer might have forgotten to include in it. It’s a two-minute balletic truffle with a sprightly introduction and high-stepping finale of Magyar persuasion.

The closing selection, Romantic Intermezzo (1900), finds the composer at the height of his melodic powers, and could easily qualify as a slow movement for one of his symphonies. A carefully structured and beautifully orchestrated edifice, it shows what a master musical architect and builder he was. Oddly enough at one point there’s a variant of the main theme which seems derived from the “Rheinmaidens” and “Sword” leitmotifs in Wagner’s (1813–1883) Ring (1869–76) [track 30, beginning at 05:41]. Maybe Alexander had Siegmund and Sieglinde in mind when he wrote it. In any case it ends the disc with one of his most sublime creations.

Conductor Dmitry Yablonsky obviously loves this music judging from the captivating, highly enthusiastic performances he gets from the Gnesin Academy Chorus and Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. While paying meticulous attention to tempo and dynamic markings, he maintains that Slavic sweep so essential to bringing out the full potential of Glazunov’s music.

From the soundstage standpoint these recordings are excellent. There’s just the right amount of space and reverberation to assure an accurate virtual image of both chorus and orchestra. The balance between the two is ideal.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

Glazunov’s colourful incidental music to Lermontov’s play, Masquerade, exists only in manuscript and has seldom been performed since its composition in 1913. The name belies the plot of the sinister play, its story unfolding as a version of the Othello story, with the jealous husband, Arbenin, believing his wife, Nina, is having an affair with the Prince. Though nothing could be further from the truth, but the stupid man poisons her and then the truth is revealed to him. As no exact directions appear in the score, the music’s intended placement is uncertain, much of it being in the form of dance used in  the confusion that masked balls create. It is essentially a score of charm, the nature of the story certainly not made clear in the music. It would certainly have formed good material for a ballet score . Made up of twenty-six cameos, it is here largely played as a continuous work, and lasts not far short of forty minutes. It contains a wordless chorus in its highly effective opening, the scoring throughout highly coloured, and in total one of Glazunov’s most likeable works. Make track 19 your ideal sampling point. The disc ends with three substantial pieces, of which the Romantic Intermezzo is the most attractive. I don’t suppose the orchestra had ever seen the music before this recording, but under Dmitry Yablonsky’s direction it sounds as if it comes from their regular repertoire. Very strongly recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group