ALEXANDER GLAZOUNOV: Symphony No. 6 in C Minor, Op. 58; La Mer, Op. 28; Introduction and Dance from Salome, Op. 90 – Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Jose Serebrier – Warner Classics 2564 69627, 66:48 [Distrib. by WEA] ****:


Jose Serebrier, the gifted Stokowski conductor-composer, continues his excellent Glazounov cycle with his 2-4 June 2008 reading of the Sixth Symphony (1897), recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. Structurally reminiscent of one of Tchaikovsky’s larger symphonies, like the Third or Fifth, Glazounov’s Sixth presents us two outer movement of serious, German-based form, complemented by internal movements that owe debts to the divertimento or divertissement. While entirely melodic and tonally conservative, the music does not generate an immediate sense of character nor color, not having been particularly influenced by Russian themes. The G Major Tema con variazioni bears a distant carriage to Arensky’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky. Its seven variants embrace an Allegretto, Scherzino, Andante mistico fugato, and Notturno. Once or twice the melody swells up and reminds me of moments from Goldmark. Glazounov’s orchestral technique, always effective, has some pungent brass riffs and punctuations for the tympani. But after the aerial antics, we still wonder what we have heard.

The E-flat Major Intermezzo plays as mock-militant jaunt that combines courtliness and balletic grace. Warbles in the woodwinds and triplet figures do not add much depth, but the music trips lightly without ruffling any emotional feathers. The Finale returns to C Minor with contrapuntal vengeance, proffering a double-variation form that pays debts both to Balakirev’s composition classes and German formality. The Scottish Orchestra trumpets and woodwinds keep busy, alternating a skittishly martial nationalism and buoyantly lyrical impulses. The tempo picks up, making the various, polyphonic choirs virtuosos; the last pages pull up the reins and thin out the texture, only to renew its fervent energies for the presto coda, where the trumpets throw out Tchaikovsky’s sparks.

Glazounov’s tone-poem or concert-fantasy in E Major, La Mer (1889), is dedicated to Wagner, and it possesses many of the ingredients that Hollywood composers would likewise employ in seascape evocations. The sea grumbles, whistles, and shimmers, with strings, horns, and a particularly active harp part. A well-wrought color piece, the music assumes a deft variation-technique to advance its ululations and surges, topped by aerial whitecaps. The poetic sentiment that provides the “program” for the score hints at Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” in several respects, not the least as serving witness to a trombone-driven, violent storm.  As the maelstrom progresses, we might detect a faint nod to Wagner’s Dutchman. The quiet ending pays homage to Borodin’s color palette.

Composed for a 1908 production of Oscar Wilde’s decadent play Salome, Glazounov’s music invokes oriental exoticism where Richard Strauss painted the decor with drops of purple blood. Only momentarily does Glazounov grant Salome a convulsive gesture, the chromatic harmonies suggestive of her Byzantine desires. At one point, the brass chorale hints at a more exotic version of Humperdinck, maybe later Gliere. The sinuous Dance pays homage to Rimsky-Korsakov, touches Balakirev’s Islamey, paints the languor of Borodin. Cecil B. DeMille music Russian style. The Serebrier formulas all apply: plenty of verve, sympathy for all parts, a colossal sense of pageantry, all of which hearken back to mentor Stokowski.

–Gary Lemco