Glazunov: Symphonies 4 &7 (CD review)

Jose Serebrier, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Warner Classics 2564 63236-2.

If Alexander Glazunov's name brings to mind little more than the Raymonda and Seasons ballets, don't feel bad; you're probably not alone. He is one of those composers who are known today for only a couple of things, although such composers may have written a huge amount of music. In any case, it's nice to have more of Glazunov's symphonic works on disc, and the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies coupled here are quite appealing, at least the way conductor Jose Serebrier handles them.

Oddly, it is the Symphony No. 7 that has acquired the name "Pastoral," presumably because of a small resemblance in the first movement to Beethoven's "Pastoral"; yet it is Glazunov's Symphony No. 4, premiered in 1894, that would seem to have more in common with Beethoven's Sixth.  The Glazunov Fourth is a totally charming piece, written unconventionally in three movements, the first of which is a somewhat melancholy Andante that slowly speeds up and evolves into an Allegro. It has all the earmarks of a pastoral setting, with an abundance of melody, which conductor Serebrier and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra take joy in communicating. The second movement is a brief, sprightly Scherzo, and the third movement is like unto the first, an Andante developing into an Allegro, only this time more quickly, and culminating in a tremendously exciting climax. Serebrier and his crew seem to enjoy this music, and the album follows up on two previous Glazunov discs they did of Symphony No. 5 and The Seasons and Symphony No. 8 and Raymonda.

The Seventh Symphony is in a more traditional four-movement arrangement. The first movement is moderately fast, with a lovely, sweet, rustic opening. The second, slow, movement is a lengthy and somewhat solemn Andante; the third movement is a Scherzo; and the Finale is a very big, very Russian-sounding affair. Both symphonies are quite melodic, as I've said, although neither has anything in it that is particularly noteworthy or memorable, which is probably why the pieces have been largely forgotten. Nevertheless, the two symphonies are quite delightful, especially the Fourth, and under Serebrier's baton they make for easy, stress-free listening.

The sound the Warner engineers provide for this music is pleasantly realistic without being exceptional in any way. It possesses a smooth, natural tonal balance, a good stereo spread, and ample presence. However, dynamics and deep bass seem constricted, and ultimate transparency is limited at best.


1 comment:

  1. I have in recent years been more and more drawn to Glazunov's music, and today I consider him as standing far above the Five Nationalist composers who preceded him (in the sense that his music makes its point far more literately and articulately), and at the same time not inferior if at all to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. I consider No. 7 a far better work than most are willing to grant it; very cogently argued and for me quite convincingly in that sense. The only thing that might militate against it, especially in the latter two movements, are the stop and go tempos that Glazunov indicates, making for a very spasmodic and disjointed effect, but I have heard a performance in which these were not observed, but rather the tempos were kept steady except at certain structural changes, as a result of which the music emerged as a far stronger statement, at least in this opinion. And as a side comment, I consider both Nos. 5 and 6 as far more fulfilled and consequently satisfactory works in comparison with No. 4.


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa