GLIERE: Symphony No. 3 “Il’ya Muromets” – Buffalo Philharmonic Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray

by | Sep 23, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

REINHOLD M. GLIERE: Symphony No. 3 “Il’ya Muromets” – Buffalo Philharmonic Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray NBD0041, 71:37 (DTS-HD MA 5.0 or PCM 2.0) [9/9/14] *****:

This may not be the greatest composition in the world, but it is a thrilling audiophile-oriented set of four wild tone poems describing elements from the legend of a mythical Russian folk hero of the 12th century. Leopold Stokowski was one of the first to record this monumental symphony, in the late ‘50s, and he did it again later on a short-lived EMI Matrix CD. He probably gets the most adventurous sounds out of the music – highlighting the tales of what one reviewer calls a masculine Scheherezade. However, both of his recordings cut out almost half of the symphony and Hermann Scherchen was the first to record the entire lengthy work on two LPs. I question JoAnn Falletta’s statement that this is an uncut version of the massive work, when Harold Farberman’s version with the Royal Philharmonic takes two CDs; if it were only 71 minutes it could have easily fit on a single CD. [All the other recordings spell it Ilya Murometz, but Naxos calls it Il’ya Muromets.]

While we’re comparing other versions, the only other hi-res surround recording of the symphony—Leon Botstein and the London Symphony on a Telarc SACD—should be mentioned. There seems to be a good deal of disagreement online about whether this 2003 effort is worth considering. My main criticism would be the extremely fast tempi which Botstein uses, almost like the conductors that speeded up works to fit on one side of a 78 rpm disc. Falletta has very similar movement timings but doesn’t sound so rushed somehow. And since we’re mentioning sonics, I should point out that while the Naxos Blu-ray is terrific fidelity, the surround channels are way too low in level and need to be brought up considerably to achieve a reasonable surround field—as true of many multichannel recordings. The extraordinary architecture of this work demands multichannel sound and a high volume level.

Falletta’s notes about how the rehearsing for the performance and recording of this work changed the orchestra are quite interesting. It became an artistic benchmark for their musicians. She calls it “a cathedral in sound.”

The tales of this legendary Middle Ages warrior call for a Wagnerian-type orchestra: including eight horns, two harps, celeste and much percussion. The symphony is dedicated to Glazunov, and definitely shows the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and even Stravinsky of the Firebird period.

The first movement describes how Il’ya Muromets gets his powers and pledges to use them to serve Mother Russia. The second deals with Solovey the Brigand, who can fell his enemies with a ferocious whistle. The third shorter movement is a sort of scherzo depicting a feast at the castle of Prince Vladimir, at which Murometz beheads Solovey. The finale concerns the heroism and petrification of Muromets. He first defeats the dreaded Tartars, but then he becomes overly sure of his powers and does battle with the Celestial Army, which is a mistake because he and all his cohorts are all turned into stone.


1. I. Wandering Pilgrims: Il’ya Murometz And Svyatogor
2. II. Il’ya Murometz And Solovei The Brigand
3. III. At The Court Of Vladimir The Mighty Sun
4. IV. The Heroic Deeds And Petrification Of Il’ya Murometz

—John Sunier


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