Uncovering the Concertos of Glazunov, a 'Musician's Musician'

Free Download: Glazunov's Reverie in D-flat Major for Horn and Orchestra

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alexander Glazunov is the kind of composer who earns the term “musician’s musician.”

Passionately interested in the distinctive qualities of instruments, he not only learned the obligatory piano, but also the violin, cello, trumpet, trombone, French horn, clarinet and several percussion instruments. As a result, his each of his concertos reflects a deep understanding of the instruments' capabilities, all in a lush, late Romantic style. A welcome new two-CD set by the Russian National Orchestra under José Serebrier collects his concertos for violin, piano, cello and saxophone, plus a handful of miniatures he wrote for violin, cello and horn.

Born in St. Petersburg in 1865, Glazunov had an eventful career that stretched from the late 19th century through the 1930s. He was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and the director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory while Shostakovich was a student there. While teaching occupied much of his later career – and he finally left the Soviet Union in 1928, amid the changing political climate – he did manage to write some skillful and individual concertos along with symphonies, ballets and other works.

First up was the Violin Concerto in 1904, a charming and still underrated piece in which the expressive potential of the violin is fully realized. Rachel Barton Pine gives a performance that is both ravishing and nimble, navigating every fluctuation in tempo and mood. Two Piano Concertos followed, with the first, from 1911, full of rich, romantic-era orchestration and a lengthy yet memorable theme and variations finale. The second (1917) shows a more distinctive voice and an awareness of more modern harmonies. Both are performed with gusto by Alexander Romanovsky.

The Chant du ménestrel for cello again shows Glazunov’s ear for orchestral color while the Saxophone Concerto, written two years before his death in 1936, shows Glazunov at his most adventurous. Marc Chisson’s velvety sound and relaxed style make this seldom-heard piece a treat to experience. Serebrier -- a composer himself -- recently finished recording a cycle of Glazunov’s symphonies to rave reviews, and with this new set, he's bringing renewed attention to this still underexposed composer.

Glazunov: Complete Concertos
Russian National Orchestra
Jose Serebrier, conductor
Warner Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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