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Hyperion Records

CDA66844 - Glazunov: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 2

Recording details: February 1995
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Ken Blair
Release date: January 1996
Total duration: 67 minutes 9 seconds


'Coombs is clearly equipped to face the most prodigious demands … This is a most impressive and highly enjoyable release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A dazzling series of salon and genre pieces full of the easy charm and winning tunefulness that also mark Glazunov's ballet The Seasons. Stephen Coombs proves a most persuasive advocate, consistently conveying sheer joy in keyboard virtuosity … which gives magic to pieces which might otherwise seem trivial. It makes a feast for any lover of piano music' (The Guardian)

'Stephen Coombs se révèle être un défenseur convaincu de ce répertoire qu'il aborde avec des moyens digitaux et une poésie remarquables' (Diapason, France)

The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 2
Allegro  [3'10]
Allegro  [4'26]
Barcarolle  [4'05]
Novelette  [3'34]
Prelude  [2'25]
Gavotte  [4'09]
Nocturne Op 37  [5'38]
Miniature in C  [1'25]
Easy sonata  [1'33]
Sonatina  [1'45]
Andante mesto  [6'11]
Theme: Andante  [0'30]

This second volume begins with the Three Études. These are among Glazunov's most important works for the piano and stand at the pinnacle of Russian virtuoso piano writing. The main work represented is the Theme and Variations, Op 72, which uses as the theme for fifteen variations the same folk-song as Glazunov's later Finnish Fantasy for orchestra. The work was written in the same year as the first piano sonata and is undoubtedly one of Glazunov's most successful forays into the piano medium.

The others pieces on this disc comes from the first and last years of the composer's life: from the early compositional attempts which so impressed Balakirev when Glazunov was thirteen, to the Two Prelude-Improvisations, written is his final period as a composer as he struggled to keep up with the new Russian avant-garde.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Glazunov’s Three études, Op 31, are among his most important works for the piano. In common with many of his instrumental opus numbers they were conceived separately. The third study, subtitled ‘Night’, was completed first and bears the date 22 March 1889. It is strange that the piece is only his second major composition for piano and marks Glazunov’s return to the medium after a gap of five years. Possibly his confidence had been undermined by his meeting with Liszt in 1884—Glazunov was never more than an indifferent pianist and had been forced to perform his earlier Piano Suite before an assembled audience of pianists and composers (including Saint-Saëns and Liszt himself). Nevertheless, it is a beautifully written and evocative work and, together with the other two studies, stands at the pinnacle of Russian virtuoso piano-writing.

The first study, bearing the date 14 May 1896, is the most brilliant of the three, with fearsome double-note passages in the right hand. The second is one of Glazunov’s most romantic and passionate works for the piano and bears the date 14 August 1891.

In the summer of 1889 Glazunov visited France for the first time when his Second Symphony was performed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. It gave Glazunov the valuable opportunity to mix with leaders of Parisian musical society—including Delibes, Massenet and Messager. On his return to Russia, his international reputation and contacts had increased significantly and the following year saw an even more confident Glazunov—completing his symphonic work The Kremlin, his Symphony No 3, and for piano his Two pieces, Op 22. Both pieces are typical of Glazunov’s easy charm and together with his Trois morceaux, Op 49, and Nocturne, Op 37, represent a significant contribution to the salon genre that was so common in late nineteenth-century Russian music. As is so often the case with Glazunov, however, their suavity disguises piano-writing of the utmost difficulty, especially in pieces such as his ‘Caprice-Impromptu’.

The Miniature in C, Easy sonata and Sonatina are all relics of Glazunov’s early studies with Rimsky-Korsakov. They give a fascinating glimpse of those early compositional attempts which so impressed Balakirev when introduced to the thirteen-year-old Glazunov. Both the so-called ‘Easy’ sonata and the Sonatina were probably written around 1880, with the Miniature completed three years later, and together they give a valuable confirmation of Glazunov’s remarkable progress. As Rimsky-Korsakov comments in his memoirs, My Musical Life: ‘He was a charming boy, with beautiful eyes who played the piano very clumsily … after a few lessons in harmony, I took him directly into counterpoint, to which he applied himself zealously. Besides, he always showed me his improvisations and jotted down fragments or minor works … his musical development progressed not by the day but literally by the hour.’

In contrast, the Two prelude-improvisations belong to Glazunov’s final period as a composer. Written in 1918 (a year in which the four preludes and fugues for piano were his only other compositions), these pieces show him struggling to keep up with the new Russian avant-garde. He stretches tonality almost to breaking-point in these works. Though searching for a new musical language, he can still not break away from his roots in the Romantic past. Despite the startling, even disturbing, sound world that Glazunov conjures up, the piano-writing remains linked to his earlier works—though now the textures have become much denser and darker. Glazunov obviously did not find the new possibilities he was searching for in these experiments, as subsequent works, such as his last two string quartets, see a return to his earlier musical language. Interestingly, the Two prelude-improvisations were not published until after his death.

Glazunov’s Theme and variations, Op 72, was written in 1900 and is one of three large-scale works for piano (the others being his two sonatas) completed during his last significant period as a composer—1899 to 1906. Originally given the title ‘Variations on a Finnish Folk Song’, the folk song used as its theme is the same one at the root of Glazunov’s later Finnish Fantasy for orchestra. The work comprises a theme and fifteen variations and is undoubtedly one of his most successful and attractive forays into the piano medium. Why Belaieff should have chosen to publish the work with the simpler title ‘Theme and variations’ is unclear. However, viewed against the background of Nicholas II’s policy of Russification (which resulted in the German-speaking university being closed and Finland fighting against St Petersburg’s attempts to absorb it into Russian territory), Belaieff may have felt that it was more politically astute to drop the Finnish connection in the original title.

Stephen Coombs © 1995

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