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Glazunov: Symphony No 8, Raymonda Suite / Serebrier, Et Al

Release Date: 08/09/2005 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 61939   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alexander Glazunov
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Symphony No. 8 of 1906 was the last major work of its kind that Glazunov completed. Still middle-aged and vigorous, the composer finished it shortly after assuming the directorship of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Those duties would consume most of his time for decades to come, so the Symphony, together with the slightly earlier Violin Concerto, would represent a high watermark among his orchestral compositions that Glazunov would not repeat. A fascinating first-movement torso of a ninth Symphony remains, and has been recorded several times (most recently with little distinction by Anissimov and the Moscow Symphony on Naxos 8.554253), but it is to the Eighth Read more that we must look for the composer’s final words in a form that had been central to his aspirations and musical development.

The Eighth Symphony reflects a growing chromaticism and harmonic tension in Glazunov’s style. Thematic integration occurs across all four movements, something that he hadn’t tried since the Symphony No. 2; and there’s no comparison between the two works in respect to the subtlety of its application. The slow movement is the finest and longest of its kind that the composer ever wrote, while the equally lengthy finale shows an unusual breadth and mastery of concentration.

The symphony has been recorded repeatedly in recent years, but the results have been lackluster overall. Otaka (BIS CD 1378) lumbers along, seemingly disinterested in anything but the slow movement, while Anissimov (Naxos 8.553660) hamstrings some good ideas with monochromatic, enervated playing. Järvi (Orfeo C 093201) is in one of his “I can’t slow down for mere music” moods during this work, and Polyansky (Chandos 9961) turns it into something you would expect to find on a Russian easy-listening radio station. The field is Serebrier’s, and he wins it not by default, but through what I referred to in a review of Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony as “energy, a confident sense of style, a sure hand at bringing out inner voices, and an orchestra that has become the equal of any in the UK.”

The Eighth Symphony is tougher fare than the Fifth, though. Glazunov’s movement structures are more complex and drawn out, with a resemblance to tone poems rather than his usual preference for the sonata-allegro and theme-and-variation forms. Serebrier handles the expansive opening movement with an attentiveness to detail that never gets in the way of its majestic sweep. The Scherzo is lovingly delineated, and the slow movement attains real profundity without sacrificing an ounce of its lyricism. It was only in the finale that I felt slightly let down. A bit too discursive and lacking in momentum, this was the one movement where Järvi’s forge-ahead approach seemed preferable. For the rest, however, Serebrier has the clear lead, and his Raymonda selections (drawn from the three-act ballet) have all the elegance, color, and movement that one could desire of this work.

When Serebrier’s recording of the Glazunov Symphony No. 5 first appeared on my desk in October 2004, I asked the conductor if it presaged a symphonic cycle. At the time, he said it did, but nothing appeared after that—until now. Serebrier’s cycle is moving forward slowly when compared to the haste with which BIS, Naxos, and Chandos have developed their respective series under Otaka, Anissimov, and Polyansky; but it is definitely worth the wait. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

"The works of Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) povided the perfect soundtrack for the late imperial Russia: a society that depended on brilliant surfaces could readily appreciate a kind of music that shone with the lustre of a ruby in a czar's crown. Glazunov's music doesn't have the emotional complexity of Tchaikovsky's, but it can be far more than a luxury item, as José Serebrier's new recording (Warner Classics) of the Symphony No. 8 proves. Serebrier, once Stokowski's protégé, has had an unusually serpentine career. His pacing of this symphony -which has at once Brahmsian economy and a radiantly Sussian energy- is unerring; perhaps no one has ever conducted Glazunov's music with more color and verve. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra turns in here a very inspired performance." --Russell Platt, The New Yorker
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in E flat major, Op. 83 by Alexander Glazunov
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906; Russia 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 42 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Notes: Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland (01/09/2005 - 01/11/2005) 
Raymonda Suite, Op. 57a by Alexander Glazunov
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; Russia 
Date of Recording: 01/09/2005 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 37 Minutes 14 Secs. 

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