GLAZUNOV: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Dmitry Yablonsky/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra/ Oxana Yablonskaya) (Naxos: 8.553928)
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AlexanderKonstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Piano Concertos Nos 1& 2; Variations on a Russian Theme
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865,the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child he showed considerablemusical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and hence Rimsky-Korsakov, from whomhe took lessons in composition. By the age of sixteen he had finished the firstof his nine symphonies, which was performed under the direction of Balakirev,whose influence is perceptible in the work. The relationship with Balakirev wasnot to continue. The rich timber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had beenpresent at the first performance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow tohear Rimsky-Korsakov conduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscowrehearsals and his meeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of a newinformal association of Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threatto his own position and influence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russiannationalist composers. Glazunov became part of Belyayev's circle, attending hisFriday evenings with Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday eveningmeetings. Belyayev took Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the FirstSymphony was performed.
In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of the Conservatory in St Petersburg,but by this time his admiration for his teacher seems to have cooled.
Rimsky-Korsakov's wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration forTchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of thecritic Laroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of thenationalists, a man described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent ofWagner's opponent, Hanslick, in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was notentirely complimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latterwas dismissed from his post at the Conservatory after showing open sympathywith students who had joined liberal protests against official policies.
Rimsky-Korsakov was reinstated by Glazunov, now elected director of aninstitution that, in the aftermath, had won a measure of autonomy. Glazunovremained director of the Conservatory until 1930. In 1928, however, he leftRussia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter heremained abroad, with an initially busy round of engagements as a conductor,finally settling near Paris until his death in 1936.
The Variations on a Russian Theme is a composite work, written inhonour of the tenth anniversary of Nikolay Vladimirovich Galkin's conductorshipof the concerts at Pavlovsk. It was first performed there on 4th July 1901. Thetheme itself was chosen by Rimsky-Korsakov's youngest daughter, NadezhdaNikolayevna, from Balakirev's collection of traditional Russian folk-songs.
According to Vasily Vasilyevich Yastrebsev in his Reminiscences ofRimsky-Korsakov, only Nikolay Sokolov had taken the task seriously, whileRimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Glazunov had approached the work in lighter-heartedfashion. Largely forgotten as a composer, Nikolay Artsybushev succeededRimsky-Korsakov in 1907 on the Board of Trustees for Russian Composers,established after the death of the publisher and benefactor Belyayev in 1904.
Rimsky-Korsakov regarded Artsybushev, a lawyer by profession, as a soundbusinessman. His opening variation is in the style of a triumphant march. Theevocative second variation with its answering phrases, a version whichYastrebsev describes as 'quite good', was by the Latvian composer Vītols,a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and a professor of composition at the StPetersburg Conservatory until the Revolution. Lyadov, the composer of the livelythird variation introduced by flutes and piccolo, was a colleague ofRimsky-Korsakov at the Conservatory, while the latter's variation, introducedby trumpets and clarinets, is compared by Yastrebsev to a traditional Russian bilina.
Nikolay Sokolov, a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and later teacher ofShostakovich at the Conservatory, offers a finely crafted version of thematerial and the set ends with Glazunov's Moderato maestoso, a statelycelebration of Galkin, well fitted to the occasion.
In 1910 Glazunov, as superstitious as many composers after Beethoven,abandoned his Ninth Symphony and set to work on his First PianoConcerto. In a letter of 21st June from his dacha at Ozerki he wrote to thepianist Konstantin Igumnov, complaining of the difficulties he found in writingthe work, explaining that although he understood the piano, he found problemsin what to allocate to the orchestra and what to the soloist, adding that whathe found comfortable might not be so for the specialist. He dedicated the concertoto Leopold Godowsky, who seemed satisfied with the work, and the firstperformance was given by Igumnov on 24th February 1912.
The first movement opens with a chromatically descending melody, thentaken up and developed in a cadenza-like passage by the piano, leading to aromantically lyrical theme and a dramatic climax. The soloist introduces aslower E major theme, embroidering it when the orchestra takes up the theme.
The central development brings back the opening material and the lyrical themeof the soloist is explored, before the recapitulation, in which the principalthemes return. The second movement offers a gently lyrical D flat major theme.
This is taken up by the soloist in the first variation, with muted strings. Thesecond chromatic variation is introduced by the soloist, while the third,described as 'heroic' offers a bolder view of the material, with its dottedrhythms. Lyricism returns in the Adagio fourth version of the theme,with the direction con sentimento. A dynamic climax is followed by abrief cadenza and a shift of key to C sharp minor for the Intermezzo. Thesame key is used for the sixth variation, Quasi una fantasia, and in afinal passage marked a capriccio the soloist leads on to an A major Mazurkawith distinct echoes of Chopin. The following Scherzo, with itsembroidered piano sequences, also finds a place for a short cadenza.
The last variation, in F major, with its reminiscences of the firstmovement, brings to an end a very Russian and thoroughly Romantic concerto.
Glazunov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B/E major, Op. 100, was firstperformed on 29th October 1917 in the Small Hall of the Petrograd Conservatorywith S.V. Bentser as soloist. The work was given in Paris in December 1928 withthe pianist Elena Gavrilova, subsequently adopted by Glazunov as his daughterafter his marriage the following year to her mother, Olga NikolayevnaGavrilova. With the Sixth Symphony the concerto formed part ofGlazunov's programme at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in December 1929, withElena as soloist, and was repeated during their American tour.
Much of the concerto, played as one movement, is derived from theopening theme, linked briefly to a secondary theme. An octave passage for thesoloist, a derivative of the main theme, is heard and there is a furtherlyrical expansion of this material, before a cadenza relaxes into an F major Andantethat draws on the secondary theme. This is followed by an Allegro, basedon the principal theme, followed at once, with a further shift of key, by thesecondary theme, as the two thematic elements blend. The wind instrumentsintroduce an Allegro scherzando, before a tenderly felt vers