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.

JJP

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.

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa