GLAZUNOV: Violin Concerto in A Minor / The Seasons (Camilla Kolchinsky/ Ilya Kaler/ Ondrej Lenard/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554049)
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AlexanderKonstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Concert Waltz, Op. 47
Violin Concerto in AMinor, Op. 82
AlexanderKonstantinovich Glazunov has not fared well at the hands of later critics. Heenjoyed a remarkably successful career in music, becoming Director of the StPetersburg Conservatory in 1905 in the aftermath of the political disturbancesof that year, and retaining the position, latterly in absentia, for the nexttwenty-five years. His earlier compositions were well received, but the veryfacility that had attracted the attention and friendship of his teacherRimsky-Korsakov was to be held against him. A Russian critic could praise himfor the reconciliation he had apparently effected between the Russian music ofhis time and the music of Western Europe, but for a considerable time theSoviet authorities regarded his music as bourgeois, while one of the mosteminent of writers in the West on Russian music, Gerald Abraham, consideredthat it had fallen to Glazunov to lead what he described as the comfortabledecline of Russian music into ignominious mediocrity. Recent critics haveoccasionally taken a more balanced view of Glazunov's achievement. Due respectis paid to his success in bringing about a synthesis of Russian and WesternEuropean music, the tradition of the Five and that of Rubinstein. Boris Schwarzhas summarised the composer's career neatly, allowing him to have been acomposer of imposing stature and a stabilising influence in a time oftransition and turmoil.
Born in St Petersburgin 1865, the son of a publisher and bookseller, as a child Glazunov showedconsiderable ability in music and in 1879 met Balakirev, who encouraged the boyto broaden his general musical education, while taking lessons fromRimsky-Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had completed the first of his ninesymphonies, a work that was performed in 1882 under the direction of Balakirev,and further compositions were welcomed by both factions in Russian musicallife, the nationalist and the so-called German.
Glazunov continued hisassociation with Rimsky-Korsakov until the latter's death in 1909. It was inhis company that he became a regular member of the circle of musicians underthe patronage of Belyayev, perceived by Balakirev as a rival to his own influence.
Belyayev introduced Glazunov to Liszt, whose support led to the spread of theyoung composer's reputation abroad. The First Symphony was performed inWeimar in 1884, the Second directed by Glazunov at the 1889 ParisExhibition. The Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were introduced tothe London public in 1897. In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of theConservatory in St Petersburg and in 1905, when peace was restored to theinstitution after student demonstrations, he became Director, a position heheld, nominally at least, until 1930.
In 1928 Glazunov leftRussia to fulfil concert engagements abroad, finally, in 1932, making his homein Paris, where he died four years later. These last years took him to a numberof countries, where he conducted concerts of his own works. In England areporter compared his appearance to that of a prosperous retired tea-planter,with his gold watch-chain spread across his starched white waistcoat,resembling, for all the world, a well-to-do bank-manager. His views on modernmusic were often severe. He found the Heldenleben of Richard Straussdisgusting and referred to the composer as cet inf?óme scribouilleur. OfStravinsky he remarked that he had irrefutable proof of the inadequacy of hisear. Nevertheless it was under his direction that the Conservatory produced anumber of very distinguished musicians. While Prokofiev did little to endearhimself to Glazunov, Shostakovich received considerable encouragement and wasunstinting in his admiration of the older composer as a marked influence on allthe students with whom he had contact, to whom Glazunov was a living legend.
Glazunov wrote his ViolinConcerto in A minor in 1904 during the summer months after the deathof Belyayev. It was first performed in St. Petersburg on 4th March 1905 byLeopold Auer, to whom it was dedicated. Two weeks later Auer's fourteen?¡-year-oldpupil Mischa Elman played the concerto in London and another pupil, MayHarrison, has left some account of her own performance of the work in St.
Petersburg in 1912, with Glazunov conducting, after a rehearsal in which he hadgone through the Brahms Double Concerto at uniformly slow speeds,something attributed by some to habitual over-indulgence in alcohol.
The concerto includesa slow movement, marked Andante sostenuto, framed by the first movement Moderato.
The opening theme is first heard in the lower register of the violin andits very Russian outline is in contrast with the lyrical second subject, markedTranquillo and in the key of F major. The central Andante sostenuto shiftsinto the key of D flat major, its principal theme played first on the G stringof the violin. Two plucked chords signal the return of the principal Moderatotheme from violas and bassoons, with a fragment of the secondary theme fromflute and oboe, before a recapitulation in which the soloist is allowed momentsof passionate virtuosity in handling the principal theme. The re-appearance ofthe second theme leads soon to a cadenza and the end of the movement. The finalA major Allegro is dominated by its cheerful Russian principal theme,heralded by the trumpets and taken up at once by the soloist. This provides aframework for contrasting episodes in a concerto that is accepted as asignificant addition to romantic violin concerto repertoire.
The Seasons was written for the Russian Imperial Ballet andfirst produced at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in February 1900 withchoreography by Marius Petipa. There is no particular story to the ballet,which offers a series of tableaux, one for each of the four seasons, set tomusic that seems to continue the tradition established in the three ballets ofTchaikovsky.
After a shortintroduction the curtain rises to show Winter surrounded by Frost,Ice, Hail and Ice, amid whirling snowflakes. For the first of these,Frost, there is a Polonaise, for Ice a dance played byviolas and clarinets, for Hail a scherzo and for Snow a waltz.
The cold of winter is banished by two gnomes, who light a fire, preparing thetemperature for the following scene.
Spring is ushered in by the harp and accompanied bythe gentle Zephyr, Birds and Flowers. There is a dance for Roses,for Spring and for one of the Birds, all of whom depart asthe summer sun grows hotter.
Summer is set in a cornfield, where Cornflowers andPoppies dance, with the Spirit of the Corn. The heat exhauststhem, and as they rest a group of Naiads enter, to a Barcarolle, bringing thewater that the flowers need. There is a dance for the Spirit of the Corn, accompaniedby a clarinet solo and a coda, interrupted by an attempt by satyrs and fauns tocarry off the Spirit, frustrated by the intervention of the Zephyr.
A wild Bacchic danceintroduces Autumn. There are brief appearances by Winter, Spring, theBird and the Zephyr, reminiscences of the year that is nowpassing. There is a dance for Summer, and then the Bacchanale resumes,to be brought to an end by multitudinous falling leaves. The stage grows dar