Glazunov, Alexander: Symphony No.5/The Season Ballet
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Alexander Glazunov was a child prodigy of sixteen whn his first symphony was performed and many saw him as Tchaikovsky's natural successor, described as "the most natural and spontaneous talent in 19th century Russia, fostered at first by Balakirev and then by Rimsky-Korsakov, who marveled at his progress 'not from day to day, but from hour to hour'."
Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) was a prodigy composer, whose first symphony was performed when he was 16. An adherent of the Russian Nationalist school in his youth, he later developed a more conservative, European style. Today he is known chiefly for his violin concerto and a few ballet scores, and for his devoted, successful Directorship of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where Shostakovich was among his students. However, although his music is not arrestingly original, his technical mastery and melodic inventiveness are admirable, manifesting spontaneous talent as well as disciplined training. The two works on this record bear this out. Both have clear formal structures and are remarkable for their brilliant orchestration, which sparkles and glitters with myriad colors. This is especially striking in the one-act ballet, The Seasons, where Glazunov uses instrumental timbres--trilling flutes, mellow horns, stratospheric violins--to depict the changing events of nature: hail, snowflakes, frost, bright sunshine, falling leaves. There is a lilting Barcarolle, several wild Bacchanales, and some lovely flower-waltzes naturally reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. The Symphony, a weightier piece, opens with a slow, stately introduction, a broad theme in unison strings (with strong echoes of Wagner's Rheingold motive), whose elements, varied and developed with great skill and imagination, provide the material for the entire movement. The G minor Scherzo has Mendelssohnian lightness and delicacy, with tinkling flutes and percussion and bouncy, skittering strings; the Trio is a dance, robust but still gracious, with--finally--a Russian flavor. The slow movement, after a harmonically ambiguous start, settles into dark, warm E-flat major with a soaring, ecstatic melody over repeated tonal chords, punctuated by interludes of low brass alternating with high woodwinds. The Finale seems least inspired: a rhythmic, slightly raucous, jubilant dance, it ends with a triumphant crash. The orchestra's excellent performance proves that these two unfamiliar works are well worth closer acquaintance. --Edith Eisler
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"The Seasons" ballet music is charming and well-played too -- perhaps more engaging than the symphony. I tend to think that when I can't respond to obviously well-made music the fault must be in my limited knowledge and taste. That could be the case here -- I might just not "get" this. It's certainly well played and recorded, so you might want to give it a try.
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