STRAVINSKY & GLAZUNOV conduct = STRAVINSKY: Petrushka – Ballet Suite (1911); Pulcinella – Ballet Suite (1920); GLAZUNOV: The Seasons – Ballet in One Act, Op. 67 – Sym. Orch./ Walther Straram Concerts Orch. (Pulcinella)/ Igor Stravinsky/ Alexander Glazunov – Pristine Audio PASC 432, 69:16 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) stood as an arch conservative, a Romantic, in the throes of the Russian Revolution and its cultural and emotional aftermath. He retained a degree of respect both as composer and pedagogue, but his style lacked the icy verve and harmonic audacity that defined “modernism” and would have guaranteed Glazunov a stronger repute among the giants of Twentieth Century music. Glazunov’s 1900 The Seasons ballet remains his most popular orchestral work, and the composer came to the London studios (10-14 June 1929) in poor health to make his only document as an orchestral conductor. Record producer and audio engineer Mark Obert-Thorn restores Glazunov’s charming score with astonishing fidelity to the orchestral definition and plastic sheen of the performance.
Obviously, Glazunov, who had led the young Milstein in a performance of Violin Concerto, could coax persuasive colors from his unnamed ensemble. The composer’s tempos remain quite brisk, but not especially so, my having just auditioned and aired the Serebrier rendition (of Spring) from Warner Classics. The flute solo in the Winter: Introduction emerges with frothy clarity. So, the “Snow” sequence startles in its urgent “presence,” with a harp part straight from Tchaikovsky. The “Ice” section at Glazunov’s tempo proceeds as a stately, sparkling gavotte. The good-natured, folksy temperament of the waltzes makes them candidates for music to accompany a carousel ride. When Glazunov’s melodic gift finds its stride, the effect enchants, to wit, the charming Waltz of the Cornflowers and Poppies and the beguiling Petit Adagio. The potent Bacchanale always arrests, especially as it evolves directly from Glazunov’s thrilling rendition of the Barcarolle. A pity that Glazunov had not bequeathed us more of his legacy.
The two Stravinsky ballet suites testify at once to his ability to elicit strong, idiomatic playing from his ensemble and his weird selectivity in the nature of the music he retains for posterity. Recording his work in London and Paris, Stravinsky (in 1928 and 1932, respectively for Pulcinella) debuted with his Petrushka suite (26-27 June 1928), but his edition omits sections that both Goossens (acoustically) and Coates (electrically) retained, making their efforts perhaps the more satisfying. Ernest Ansermet constantly complained that Stravinsky’s baton technique never could achieve the results indicated in his scores, and so his leadership adjusted the tempos to suit his dubious abilities! Still, the two appearances of the Shrovetide Fair project their own magic under the master. The uncredited keyboard part in The Petrushka’s Room moves articulately. The complete elimination of the last scenes – Petrushka’s fight, death, and “resurrection” – seem unjustified, except that Columbia limited the composer to six 78rpm sides. The Pulcinella score – conceived as a ballet for singers and dancers with music attributed to Pergolesi – suffers its own elisions. The longest moment, the Gavotte with Two Variations, conveys a salon, ornamental dignity in neo-Classical contours.
We must applaud Obert-Thorn’s restoration of these historic discs with such singular quietude from the American and French Columbia pressings. Now, for a fiery Petrushka, I would like to hear his restoration of the Mitropoulos version for that same Columbia label from the 1950s.