ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV Orchestral Works Vol. 18 = Masquerade (Incidental Music); Two Pieces Op. 14; Pas de caractére; Romantic Intermezzo Op. 69 – Gnesin Academy Chorus/Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Dmitry Yablonsky – Naxos 8.570211, 66:57 ****:
ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV Orchestral Works Vol. 19 = Les Ruses d’amour Ballet – Romanian State Orchestra/Horia Andreescu – Naxos 8.572447, 50:56 ****:
Glazunov was one of the most important Russian composers of the later Romantic period. He was director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory for many years and one of his students was Shostakovich. His style was considered too staid and old-fashioned by younger composers such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev but Glazunov’s orchestration skills were just as good as Rimsky-Korsakov’s and he had a fine lyric quality similar to Tchaikovsky. He wrote nine symphonies and a huge number of other works. These two discs bring us probably unfamiliar music of the composer, but are eminently worth hearing.
The play Masquerade inspired a number of Russian composers. It concerned a man in St. Petersburg society who is bored with the world and descending into madness. In a parallel to Othello, he becomes jealous of his wife, who he eventually poisons. The lovely incidental music for the four acts of the play mostly depict the glittering environment of the balls, except for the sections dealing with the tragic events of the play. Glazunov’s orchestrations often sound like updated Tchaikovsky. The opening Tableau makes creative use of a chorus, conjuring up a sumptuous atmosphere. The album notes describe a rough connection between the play’s story line and the music. One of the Two Pieces is an Oriental Reverie, with the orchestra creating a most exotic scene, and the Pas de caractere sports a lively Hungarian folk character.
Performance and sonics of the 2006 recording are of high quality. It’s such a relief to have all current recordings coming out of Russia in excellent fidelity today; unlike the mostly atrocious quality of Soviet-era recordings.
Glazunov’s ballet in one act – also known as The Trial of Damis – strives to create a realization of the French rococo period in its 15 scenes. Early French dance tunes are used in the score, though it remains thoroughly Russian in its most colorful orchestrations, which were praised by none other than Rimsky-Korsakov. One of the French melodies used in the beginning of the ballet comes from Arbeau’s Orchesographie of 1598. An element of pastiche fits well with the period and style of the ballet. The scenario is built around the efforts of the daughter of a duchess in test the love of the Marquis Damis via disguising herself as a maid servant.
The ballet was premiered in St. Petersburg in 1900, with choreography by Petipa. The Romanian State Orchestra was founded in 1942 and conducted by George Enescu. The conductor on this recording, Horia Andreescu, has made over 60 recordings, including a seven-CD set of the orchestral works of Enescu. Sonics are good, though the recording does date from 1986.
– John Sunier