GLAZUNOV: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8 (Alexander Anissimov/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553660)
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Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov(1865-1936)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major, Op. 55
Symphony No.8 in E flat major, Op. 83
Glazunov belonged to a generation ofRussian composers that was able to benefit from more professional standards ofcompositional technique, absorbing and helping to create a synthesis of thenational, that might sometimes be expressed crudely enough, and the techniqueof the conservatories, that might sometimes seem facile. His music seems tobridge the gap between the two, continuing at the same time a romantictradition into a world that had turned to eclectic innovation. As a young man,he worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whom Balakirev, his mother'steacher, had recommended him, and played an important part in the education ofa new generation of Russian composers such as Shostakovich.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov wasborn in St Petersburg in 1865, the son of a publisher and bookseller. As achild he showed considerable musical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and henceRimsky-Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had finished the first of his ninesymphonies, which was performed under the direction of Balakirev, whoseinfluence is perceptible in the work. The relationship with Balakirev was notto 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, and in 1884 Belyayev took him to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the FirstSymphony was performed.
In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of theConservatory in St Petersburg, but by this time his admiration for his teacherseems to have cooled. Rimsky-Korsakov's wife was later to remark on Glazunov'sadmiration for Tchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence ofTaneyev and of the critic Laroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strongopponent of the nationalists, a man described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russianequivalent of Hanslick in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirelycomplimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleagueand friend of Rimsky-Korsakov, and demonstrated this after the politicaldisturbance of 1905, when the latter had signed a letter of protest at thesuppression of some element of democracy in Russia and had openly sympathizedwith Conservatory students who had joined liberal protests against officialpolicies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed from the Conservatory, to be reinstatedby Glazunov, elected director of an institution that, in the aftermath, had nowwon a measure of autonomy, Glazunov remained director of the Conservatory until1930.
It says much for the esteem in whichGlazunov was held that he was able to steer the Conservatory through years ofgreat hardship, difficulty and political turmoil, fortified in his task, itseems, by the illicit supply of vodka provided for him by the father ofShostakovich, then a student there. Emaciated through the years of privationafter the Revolution, he eventually assumed a more substantial appearanceagain, compared by the English press to a retired tea-planter or a prosperousbank-manager, with his rimless glasses and gold watch-chain. His appearance wasin accordance with his musical tastes. He found fault with Stravinsky's ear andcould not abide the music of Richard Strauss, while the student Prokofiev seemsto have shocked him with the discords of his Scythian Suite. His ownmusic continued the tradition of Tchaikovsky and to this extent seemed ananachronism in an age when composers were indulging in experiments of allkinds. Glazunov left Russia in 1928 in order to attend the Schubert centenarycelebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, at first with a busyround of engagements as a conductor, finally settling near Paris atBoulogne-sur-Seine until his death in 1936.
Glazunov wrote his Symphony in B flatmajor, Opus 55, in 1895, dedicating the work to Sergey Taneyev, whosemonumental Oresteia, based on Aeschylus, was first performed in the sameyear. The work met with approval from Rimsky-Korsakov, who found in it thebeginning of something new, although a few years later his youngest daughter,Nadezhda Nikolayevna, expressed dislike for it, when she played it through,rather badly, we are told, with Stravinsky. The first movement opens with astrong motif in the lower register of the orchestra, answered by the woodwind,the outline of the first subject heard from bassoons and cellos in the Allegrothat follows the solemn introductory section. The material forms thesubstance of the transition that leads to the secondary theme, heard first fromflute and clarinet with harp accompaniment, as it shifts in harmony from Dminor to the dominant key of F major. There is a technically assureddevelopment, before the varied return of the material and the excitement of thefinal section of the movement. The G minor Scherzo has a reminiscence ofMendelssohn about it and a more direct debt to Tchaikovsky. It includes a triosection and elements of both return in conclusion. The principal theme of the Eflat major Andante is first heard from the violins. An interruption bythe brass introduces contrasting material, before the return of the thematicsubstance of the first section of the movement. The symphony, very properly,ends with a rondo, always with rhythmic and melodic suggestions of Russia, bothin its principal theme and in its contrasting episodes.
It was in the winter of the disturbed yearof 1905 that Glazunov worked on his Symphony No.8 in E flat major, Opus 83,completing the piano score during the following spring. The composer played itthrough to Rimsky-Korsakov and his friends on several occasions, with thesecond movement regarded as superior to the others and agreement that the scherzowas without a trio and really a kind of rondo. The orchestrated version wasplayed at a Russian Music Society concert in December 1906 and heard again thefollowing January at Glazunov's jubilee concert. The principal theme of thefirst movement is heard initially from bassoons and horns and motifs derivedfrom this play a large part in the tripartite sonata-form movement, with itssecondary theme entrusted first to the oboe. The central section finds scopefor contrapuntal development and the principal theme returns in a varied formin the final recapitulation. The E flat minor slow movement starts menacingly,the main theme continuing with suggestions of the first movement, with asecondary theme introduced by the flute. These themes return in due course, thefirst in a lower register and the second initiated by the oboe, in a movementof great intensity. If the stormy scherzo has no formal trio, it certainly hascontrasting material to its busy opening, re-establishing its nominal key of Cmajor in its conclusion. The wind instruments provide a characteristicallyRussian hymn-like opening to the last movement, now confirming the home-key ofE flat major. An episode in B major with an opening clarinet melody leads tothe return of the wind chorale and the principal theme, which is later toreturn in contrapuntal form, followed by the second theme and a triumphantconclusion in which the principal theme plays a pervasive part. The whole work,the last symphony that Glazunov completed, represents the height of hisach