GLAZUNOV: Symphony No. 6 / The Forest (Alexander Anissimov/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554293)
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AlexanderKonstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 6 in Cminor, Op. 58; The Forest, Fantasy, Op. 19
It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to defend the reputation ofGlazunov. He belonged to a generation of Russian composers that was able to benefitfrom more professional standards of compositional technique, absorbing andhelping to create a synthesis of the national, that might sometimes beexpressed crudely enough, and the technique of the conservatories, that mightsometimes seem facile. Glazunov worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whomBalakirev, his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an importantpart in the education of a new generation of Russian composers such asShostakovich.
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. By the ageof sixteen he had finished the first of his nine symphonies, which was performedunder the direction of Balakirev, whose influence is perceptible in the work.
The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The rich timber-merchantMitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the first performance of thesymphony and travelled to Moscow to hear Rimsky-?¡Korsakov conduct a secondperformance there. He attended the Moscow rehearsals and his meeting withRimsky- Korsakov was the beginning of a new informal association of Russiancomposers, perceived by Balakirev as a threat to his own position andinfluence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russian nationalist composers.
Glazunov became part of Belyayev' s circle, attending his Friday evenings withRimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday evening meetings. Belyayev tookGlazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the First Symphony wasperformed.
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 ofHanslick in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirelycomplimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latterhad signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some element of democracyin Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory students who had joinedliberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed fromthe Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected director of aninstitution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy. Glazunovremained director of the Conservatory until 1930.
In 1928 he left Russia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations inVienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, with a busy round of engagements as aconductor, finally settling near Paris until his death in 1936.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was held that he was ableto steer the Conservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty andpolitical turmoil, fortified in his task, it seems, by the illicit supply ofvodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then a student there.
Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution, he eventually assumeda more substantial appearance again, compared by the English press to a retiredtea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimless glasses and goldwatch?¡-chain. His appearance was in accordance with his musical tastes. Hefound fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of RichardStrauss, while the student Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with thediscords of his Scythian Suite. His own music continued the tradition ofTchaikovsky and to this extent seemed an anachronism in an age when composerswere indulging in experiments of all kinds.
Symphony No. 6 in C minor, Opus 58 was completed in 1896, during a period inwhich Glazunov shared the duties of conductor of the Russian Symphony Concertswith Rimsky-Korsakov. The new work was dedicated to Sigismund Blumenfeld,brother of the composer Felix Blumenfeld and described by Rimsky-Korsakov as atalented singer, accompanist and composer of songs. It had its firstperformance in the Hall of the Nobility on 8th February 1897, welcomed byRimsky-Korsakov as the highest point at that time in the composer's developmentand a sign of a new era in Russian music. The first movement starts with a slowintroduction that reaches a brief climax before the brass momentarily renewsthe tension and the lower strings, subdued again, lead to the stormy opening ofthe Allegro appassionato, the theme of which has already been heard inthe introduction. The second subject is marked Pi?? tranquillo, succeededby the development of the first subject. The secondary theme too returns,before the material is combined in a final coda. The second movement is in theform of a theme and seven variations. The G major theme itself is presented bythe strings. The wind instruments make their appearance in the secondvariation, marked Pi?? mosso, Allegro moderato, the theme heard firstfrom the flutes against the descending line of the accompaniment. This isfollowed by a change of metre from 2/4 to 3/8, the altered theme now entrustedto the oboe. The third variation, an E major Allegro in 6/8, is a Scherzo,the flutes at first accompanied by plucked strings. A Fugato follows,in 4/4 and marked Andante mistico, leading in turn to a fifth variation,a B major Nocturne. The sixth version of the material, in G major, is markedAllegro moderato and in triple metre, the treatment of the themeprincipally heard in the wind. The movement ends with a Finale introducedby the brass. The third movement is an E flat major Intermezzo, marked Allegretto,with a central section that shifts through various keys before the returnof the opening. The Finale of the symphony has an Andante maestoso introductionforeshadowing the principal triumphantly Russian C major theme stated by thefull orchestra. The following subsidiary material, in G major, is marked Scherzando,to be followed by the return of the principal theme, now marked Allegropesante. A pastoral episode intervenes before the final return of the maintheme and the coda with its fugal textures.
In his autobiography Rimsky-Korsakov is less flattering in his view of TheForest, to which he refers in scathing terms. Others, however, have heardthe work as in the true spirit of the Russian nationalist composers, from whomGlazunov gradually diverged. In a letter to Stasov in November 1882, however,the composer tells of playing the work through to Balakirev, leader of thenationalist movement in music, and being scolded and told that the compositionhad no logic in it. Balakirev found the nymph episode unsatisfactory, remarkedof the hunt section that there was no hunting in the forest, and advisedGlazunov to abandon the piece. He subsequently modified this judgement.
Later published under the title Fantaisie, The Forest, Opus 19,was completed in 1887, a year in which Glazunov became closely concerned withthe completion and publication of works by Borodin, who had recently died. Theopening depicts something of the mystery of the forest of the