Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Review: Glazunov Complete Concertos -- Completely Enjoyable

Glazunov: Complete Concertos
Russian National Orchestra
Jose Serebrier, conductor
Warner Classics

Jose Serbrier's taken some time off from his recording cycle of the Glazunov symphonies to do this two-disc set of the Russian composer's concerti. Being well-familiar with Glazunov's works, he leads the Russian National Orchestra (who have an affinity for music by their native sons) in a series of well-defined, sympathetic performances of these works.

Glazunov composed concerti for a variety of instruments, so there's a host of soloists featured as well. Chronologically, Glazunov straddles the beginning of the 20th Century. He studied under Rimsky-Korsakov, and mentored Dmitri Shostakovich.

His first piano concerto (1911) is full of rich, romantic-era orchestration, and sounds somewhat like Rachmaninov's first concerto, composed around the same time. By the second, though, Glazunov had a more distinctive compositional voice. Pianist Alexander Romanovsky plays with fire and conviction without pushing the solos into theatrical pyrotechnics.

For me, the Violin Concerto (1904) is the crowning jewel. Rachel Barton Pine brings out the warmth of the melody, lightly skipping around the technical passages without breaking a sweat. If you like the Brahms concerto and haven't heard this work, you're in for a treat.

Also included are Glazunov's cello and saxophone concerto. Like the violin concerto, his work for cello exudes late-romantic lushness with just a hint of Glazunov's Russian origins. Of more interest, though is the Concerto in E-flat major for alto saxophone and string orchestra.

Written just two years before his death in 1936, the concerto shows Glazunov at his most adventurous. It may have been his maturity as a composer, but I also think it was the still-new saxophone's lack of repertoire and performing traditions. It gave Glazunov a blank slate in which he wrote as free of the influence of his mentors and peers as he ever got. It's a very appealing, although somewhat different work, then the other pieces on this recording.

Serebrier rounds out the recording with some short works for solo instruments and orchestra. For those of us who are familiar with Glazunov, it's instructive to hear these works one right after the other. For not familiar with this Russian master, this disc is a great place to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment