Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA66866 - Glazunov: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 4

Recording details: June 1995
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Ken Blair
Release date: May 1996
Total duration: 69 minutes 8 seconds


'A series that will surely raise this composer's status immeasurably' (Gramophone)

The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 4
Prelude  [3'47]
Mazurka 1  [5'52]
Mazurka 2  [5'00]
Impromptu 1  [1'50]
Impromptu 2  [3'25]
Moderato  [8'04]
Scherzo  [6'12]
Finale  [8'44]

This recording is the fourth and final disc in Stephen Coomb's edition of all Glazunov's music for solo piano. The main work featured is the Sonata No 2: it is formidably challenging. The first movement is passionate, with lush harmonies and polyphonic interest. The Scherzo second movement is the most technically demanding and has been described by Leslie Howard as 'a treacherous study in double notes in no way relieved by the faster toccata of the trio section'.

Also included are many of the smaller-scale works, notable among which is the Triumphal March on the occasion of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Op 40. This piece, lasting some ten minutes, brings the listener something of a surprise when, two minutes from the end, a large chorus (here, the Holst Singers—and also the two 'Executive Producers' from Hyperion!) joins the solo piano for a quick romp (in Russian) in praise of Columbus ...

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In common with most Russian composers, piano music holds a significant place in the works of Alexander Glazunov. Virtually every aspect of his talent is exhibited here: his skill as a miniaturist; the elegance of his salon music; his harmonic adventurism and his mastery of counterpoint and large-scale forms. Glazunov also holds a particular place in the development of Russian music as a whole. He stands as the heir of both Glinka’s quest for a Russian nationalistic expression and Anton Rubinstein’s desire to integrate Russian art into mainstream European culture. He was championed by the nationalistic composer Balakirev and taught by his student Rimsky-Korsakov. He was influenced by his friend Tchaikovsky and yet inherited the mantle of Anton Rubinstein—most notably as Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory.

Although his legacy has been largely ignored in the West, his influence as Russia’s great musical conciliator has lived on in successive generations of post-Revolutionary composers and particularly in the music of his greatest student Shostakovich.

Although written in 1888, the Prelude and two mazurkas, Op 25, were published after the Two pieces, Op 22 (1890), and the Waltzes on the theme ‘SABELA’, Op 23 (1890). Mazurkas were a particularly popular idiom for piano pieces at the time and most of Glazunov’s contemporaries wrote several examples—Balakirev is a good example. However, in this case Glazunov has managed to create a truly stunning technical tour de force from the relatively simple dance form, something he was to repeat later in his brilliant piano waltzes.

A more unusual work is the Barcarolle sur les touches noires, written in 1887. For reasons unknown it was not published by Belaieff but by his rival V Bessel & Co, another Leipzig-based publishing house. Perhaps for this reason, it has no opus number. Glazunov has rather cleverly exploited its F sharp major tonality so as to ensure, as the title suggests, that the right hand plays only on the black keys of the piano. However, one of its charms is that he has successfully avoided any sense of artifice and, despite having only five pitches available for the construction of the melody, it never sounds forced or unnatural.

The Two impromptus, Op 54, are Glazunov’s farewell to the nineteenth-century salon genre. Written in 1895 they are as fresh and charming as his first piano work, the Suite on the name ‘SASCHA’, Op 2. His later piano works would be dominated by larger-scale works such as the preludes and fugues and piano sonatas.

The Idylle, Op 103, dates from 1926 and, together with the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, marks the end of Glazunov’s work as a piano composer. It is an extraordinary work for this period. Despite the appalling conditions in which Glazunov lived (the disappointments and frustrations, together with crushing poverty and illness), this piece has an almost joyful quality together with a heart-rending beauty. The earlier musical crisis of identity which had resulted in the tonal experiments of the Two prelude-improvisations has now been resolved. This is a wonderful swan-song with all the traits of Glazunov’s musical character—melodic invention, harmonic sophistication and a wealth of contrapuntal detail.

The next four works on this disc are transcriptions for piano solo by Glazunov. Except for the piano reductions of his ballet Vremena goda (‘The Seasons’), Op 67 (which would have been intended for the rehearsal room rather than the concert hall) and of his Saxophone Quartet (a simple note-for-note transcription only published beneath the instrumental parts in the quartet score), Glazunov made no other arrangements of his music for solo piano.

The most extended and interesting of these transcriptions is the Triumphal march, Op 40. Originally for ‘grand orchestra and chorus’, the music opens with a repeating short motif which only hints at what is to come. A solemn interlude follows, of such Wagnerian influence that it is impossible to tell whether it is serious or tongue-in-cheek. The sudden appearance of one of America’s best-known tunes is a pure joy, and the entry finally of the chorus singing a hymn of praise to Christopher Columbus (in Russian) an unexpected pleasure. Clearly Glazunov had a sense of humour. The Russian text translates as:

Glory to centuries of hardy struggle, that left us an inheritance of steadfast faith and hope! Hail, heroes of long-past years! The dawn of liberty gleamed on their holy course, their hardy path was lit by that dawn! A great genius—God’s radiant gift—cleft the oceans by his mighty will; splendid was the new world found by him … Hail, Columbus, from age to age, hail, Columbus, hail! Hail to you, hero, hail! Let us sing a grand hymn in praise of the heroes of long-past years; faith and hope will lead us towards fame! Glory and praise to you heroes, glory and praise, praise to you!

Ei ukhnem (Song of the Volga boatmen), Op 97, and In modo religioso, Op 38, are both, by contrast, slight works. Op 97 was originally scored for orchestra and chorus and it is debatable whether this arrangement is indeed by Glazunov himself. In Belaieff’s published catalogue it is clearly stated that the transcription is by Alexander Siloti (who had arranged Glazunov’s Orchestral Suite, Op 79, for solo piano) and yet the published piano reduction makes no mention of this. In modo religioso was originally written for brass quartet in 1886. This transcription was published in 1893.

Pas de caractère, Op 68, was composed in 1900 for orchestra and might have been intended for inclusion in one of Glazunov’s ballets or possibly as an encore piece. The transcription is particularly effective on the piano.

The Piano Sonata No 2 was written in 1901 and is dedicated to N N Elenkovsky, Glazunov’s own piano teacher. In common with the First Piano Sonata, written the previous year, it is formidably challenging. The first movement is the most passionate, with lush harmonies and polyphonic interest. The Scherzo second movement is the most technically demanding and has been described by the pianist Leslie Howard as ‘a treacherous study in double notes in no way relieved by the faster toccata of the trio section’. Whether Glazunov conceived his two piano sonatas to be performed as a pair is debatable. However, it is unlikely that their key relationship (an augmented fourth apart: equidistant from each other—No 1 in B flat minor and No 2 in E minor) was accidental. It would take a brave pianist, however, to programme them together in a recital.

Stephen Coombs © 1996

   English   Français   Deutsch