Notes and Editorial Reviews
Powerful performances of a sixth symphony, seven veils and a seascape
José Serebrier’s fine series of Glazunov recordings continues with this superb performance of the Sixth Symphony. If there’s a finer advocate of this composer today, I haven’t heard him. And if anyone remains to be convinced of the strength and imagination of Glazunov’s orchestral output, they need look no further than here.
-- Gramophone [3/2009]
GLAZUNOV Symphony No. 6. Fantasy in E, “La mer.” Introduction and Dance of Salome • José Serebrier, cond; Royal Scottish Natl O • WARNER 69627(66:47)
So how is the recording? I’ve
already tipped my hand here: this is a worthy installment in what has turned out to be, for me, a mind-altering series, one that has converted me to a composer who was, formerly, far beneath my horizon of interest. Most immediately engaging is “La mer.” From its snarling opening measures, with its low-brass growls and its percussion roars, it’s darker, grittier, and more intense than most of Glazunov’s output; in terms of its sheer sonority, too, it stands out for its moment-to-moment orchestral ingenuity. Granted, it’s nowhere near as radical as Debussy’s La mer—Glazunov’s remains heavily indebted to its Lisztian forebears (not only the Dante Symphony but the symphonic poems as well). Nor, for that matter, does the score flaunt any formal elegance: it’s the kind of music that can seem garrulous in lesser hands. But one quality of Serebrier’s Glazunov series has been its combination of the Stokowskian and Szellian—and his special ability to bring out the colors of “La mer”’s glorious, sonic surface while shoring up the wobbly structure makes for a riveting experience. Serebrier insists that being a composer helps him “get inside a score, inside the music, and make some sense of it, some logic, so that it communicates”—and that skill certainly pays high dividends here. Reviewing Lan Shui’s recent recording with the Singapore Symphony, Michael Fine lamented the lack of “salt, brine, and winds” in the work (31:2)—but it’s a criticism one would hardly level after hearing Serebrier’s seething performance.
The Sixth is nearly as impressive. What to praise most? The flexibility of phrasing and dynamics in the first movement’s introduction? The striving impulse of the first theme, which grows out of it? The pastoral sweetness in the second movement—succulent but never sappy? The celebratory vigor of the finale, with its blazing brass and, in spots, its almost jazzy syncopations? The canny weighting of the harmonies throughout? From first note to last, it’s a splendid experience. As for Salome: not even Serebrier can convince me of the value of this work, which lards Humperdinckian religiosity with Coney Island exoticism. Still, Strauss’s equivalent is pretty tawdry, too (to my ears, at least, the “Dance of the Seven Veils” is the low point of the Strauss opera), and Serebrier’s performance of the Glazunov has a great deal more conviction—and a great deal more sensual appeal—than Polyanski’s competing recording for Chandos.
The orchestra plays just as well as Serebrier claims it does—and the sound on my pre-production CD is exemplary. If you’ve been following this series, of course, you won’t need my encouragement to add this to your collection; but if you’ve yet to join in, this is as good a place as any to start.
FANFARE: PETER J. RABINOWITZ
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 6 in C minor, Op. 58 by Alexander Glazunov
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Written: 1896; Russia
Length: 35 Minutes 14 Secs.
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