GLIERE: Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42 “Ilya Murometz”; The Red Poppy Ballet, Op. 70–6 Dances – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen – Historic-Recordings

by | Dec 24, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

GLIERE: Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42 “Ilya Murometz”; The Red Poppy Ballet, Op. 70–6 Dances – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen

Historic-Recordings HRCD 0050, (2 CDs) 52:05; 57:00 [] **** :

The reputation of Russian composer Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956) centers virtually on two works, one quite long and the other quite short: the massive, 80-minute Third Symphony “Ilya Murometz,” and the little Russian Sailors’ Dance from The Red Poppy. While connoisseurs and music majors can dash off a few other random pieces–the Harp Concerto, Cello Concerto, or the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano–we rarely hear these in the concert hall, and the large Third Symphony usually bears the severe cuts authorized by the composer for export by Leopold Stokowski, who toured with the piece and recorded it commercially in Houston. 

The Historic-Recordings label restores the original Westminster set XWN 2212, recorded c. 1957 with Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966), noted for his imperious temperament and his ability to extract sound results in the recording studio. The 1911 Symphony appeals to the epic in Scherchen’s own character: Ilya Murometz is a composite figure of legend, a peasant who rises through the blessings of his mentor Svyatagor to become a true Bogatyr and hero of the people. Ilya kills the fierce brigand Solovei, who enjoys destroying travelers in the forest with an eerie whistle. Ilya defeats Solovei and drags him to a royal banquet in the third movement, in which he executes Solovei. In the last movement–a battle with the pagan Batyagha–Ilya reveals a kind of hubris, boasting he can conquer even an army sent by heaven. Providence having been tempted sends such an army, and to his astonishment Ilya finds each unearthly warrior struck revives, doubled into two warriors. As Ilya and his own men retreat, they are petrified into stone.

In the course of these lavishly mounted proceedings, Gliere has recourse to his rich Russian orchestral heritage ,which includes harmonies from Taneyev and Tchaikovsky, early Scriabin, early Stravinsky, Liadov, Arensky, and the ubiquitous Wagner of Tristan und Isolde. While Scherchen may not play every note–try Harold Faberman of more recent vintage–he certainly plays most of them, and potently lush they are. Given the predominance of bird-song in the Solovei movement, the entire fabric of the piece rests on Wagner’s Forest Murmurs, cross-fertilized by moody strummings gleaned from Prokofiev’s D Major Violin Concerto and Scriabin’s Op. 24 Reverie. The  borrows its hefty syntax from Borodin‘s B Minor Symphony, Rimsky-Koraskov’s Antar, and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred. The monstrous last movement describes the throes of battle, so we can recall the Kershenetz sequence from Rimsky-Korsakov and selected visceral rhythms from Glazunov and Wagner. Yet the work withstands its “derivations” and  fulfills our desire for a program piece that speaks to us eloquently on its own merits. Scherchen imposes a tautness of line that consistently moves the piece–and in the last meandering movement, that is quite a feat–without sag, and the intensity of sonority never quits.  Even the most fastidious audiophile should find his speakers well tested by this grandly thrilling restoration, provided he makes time in his listening schedule for unapologetic, Romantic Russian egotism!  Brash, voluptuous, splashy, and aurally panoramic, this Scherchen version remains a contender even after more than fifty years.

— Gary Lemco

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