Alexandre Glazunov (1865-1936) extends Anton Rubinstein and Peter Tchaikovsky’s efforts to synthesize nationalistic Russian music with European, particularly French, musical styles. Stephen Coombs plays (rec. 1995) a number of salon works that easily imbibe influences from Chopin and Balakirev. The 1888 Prelude and Two Mazurkas prove both lyrical and grandiose, often spilling the mazurka rhythm into a waltz tempo. Rather brilliant and glittery, the music demonstrates sophistication and virtuoso flair. The Barcarole in F-sharp Major (1887) is Glazounov‚s direct response to Chopin’s original and to that composer’s “black key” etude. Plastic and resonant, the piece glides through its five-note melodic line with diaphanous, arpeggiated agility, lots of trills. The two impromptus of 1895 conclude Glazounov’s ventures into salon music with semi-Debussy or Grieg miniatures of easy charm. The Idylle Op. 103 (1926) makes a luxuriant impression, elegant and dance-like, with rolling chords and some subtle harmonies. As the last piano work by Glazounov, it makes a serenely accomplished swan song.
Glazounov himself made the piano transcriptions of the orchestral works Coombs offers prior to the grand sonata. The Triumphal March, Op. 40, appears a curious amalgam of Wagner and America’s My Eyes Have Seen the Glory. The piece breaks into a chorus (The Holst Singers, Stephen Layton, conducting) celebrating Christopher Columbus, a poignant, perhaps tongue-in-cheek answer to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. Song of the Volga Boatmen, Op. 97 explains itself. It provides the pianist with a touch of bravura to make it interesting. In modo religioso, originally for brass quartet, is a march-like plainchant. Pas de caractere, Op. 68 jaunts colorfully in the manner of Tchaikovsky, breaking into a healthy gallop; Coombs punches out the bass line with Russian authority. The E Minor Sonata (1901) has Chopinesque ambitions, that composer’s B Minor Sonata providing a sound model, although Glazounov’s sonata is in three movements. Both lush and polyphonically active, the first movement Moderato stirs passionate impulses together. A throbbing pulsation and a glittery treble permeate its development. Coombs’ Steinway resonates quite brilliantly, courtesy of engineer Ken Blair. The Scherzo, to make a pun, is a mighty handful, a knotty collection of double notes moto perpetuo, a Chopin etude made thickly Russian. The middle section is just as fleet, what pianist Leslie Howard calls a toccata. The Finale looks more to Beethoven’s aggressive style at first, then a fortissimo, staccato etude a la Rubinstein sets in. Heavy syncopation adds drama, but it becomes a mite monotonous, a bit reminiscent of the middle section of Schumann’s C Major Fantasy. Splashy, contrapuntal, melodic, the final pages have more than a touch of another sincere master of overwrought sincerity, Rachmaninov.
— Gary Lemco