This is an important recording for several reasons. First, it contains the finest version yet recorded of Glière’s epic Third Symphony, “Il’ya Muromets”. Second, it defines once and for all how the piece is supposed to go. In order to understand this latter point, we need to take a moment and review the work’s history on disc.
The symphony’s most famous early recording was Hermann Scherchen’s, a mono Westminster release that wasn’t very good, and more to the point, came from a conductor too erratic to be taken seriously as a definitive interpreter of, well, anything (fun though he often was). After Scherchen, recordings such as Ormandy’s and Stokowski’s presented the musicRead more heavily cut, thus contributing to the legend of the work’s monstrous length and musical prolixity. Aside from a hard to find, rather crude Russian recording featuring the Moscow Radio Symphony under Boris Khaikin, that is where matters stood for many years.
At the dawn of the digital age, Harold Farberman made the first modern recording of the symphony for Unicorn. That version got a lot of attention, first, because it was one of the first digital LPs ever released, and second, because Farberman presented the piece uncut. Unfortunately, Farberman was famous for playing just about everything at half the normal tempo (Mahler too). His recording lasted more than 90 minutes spread over two discs, and further contributed to the myth of the symphony as a bloated monstrosity. This was the situation until two recordings, Edward Downes on Chandos and Donald Johanos on Naxos, showed that the complete piece could be played in about 70 minutes, or about the same length as a traditional performance of Beethoven’s Ninth or Mahler’s Fifth–long, but not absurdly so.
Those were good performances: the Downes handsomely recorded but a touch characterless, the Johanos more exciting but edgily played by the Bratislava orchestra and somewhat thinly engineered. Until now, that was the reference recording for the symphony. Now, finally, we have a superbly played, viscerally exciting, richly engineered recording that proves that the symphony does indeed “work” as a coherent piece of music. What are the qualities that make this recording special?
First, Falletta takes the first movement’s lengthy introduction at a naturally flowing tempo that creates a palpable feeling of anticipation. It leads to a swift allegro that presses forward without letup, lending the movement an unusual degree of inevitability and coherence. The Andante, which can sound almost suffocatingly, sickeningly thick, has plenty of atmosphere but again a welcome feeling of forward movement and a refreshing transparency of texture. The scherzo always works, and this one glitters brilliantly, with Solovey the Brigand’s shriek in the central section making an appropriately alarming impression. Best of all, Falletta offers a truly exciting, hell for leather account of the finale, easily the best yet recorded. The climactic petrification of Il’ya Muromets is overwhelmingly powerful, setting up the quiet coda as an inevitable and satisfying conclusion.
Now I am not going to suggest that the symphony is concise or pithily argued, but this interpretation makes better sense of it than any previous version, and it’s also engineered with the vividness and impact necessary to do the playing full justice. The myth of the music’s awkward gigantism and formal diffuseness has been debunked, with the perhaps paradoxical result that the symphony’s true stature has grown proportionately.
Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42, "Il'ya Muromets": I. Wandering Pilgrims (Il'ya Muromets and Svyatogor): Andante sostenuto - Allegro risoluto
Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42, "Il'ya Muromets": II. Solovey, the Brigand: Andante
Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42, "Il'ya Muromets": III. At the Court of Vladimir, the Mighty Sun: Allegro
Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42, "Il'ya Muromets": IV. The Heroism and Petrification of Il'ya Muromets: Allegro tumultuoso - Andante
Average Customer Review: ( 7 Customer Reviews )
FANTASTIC FINDApril 22, 2014By Brad Dalton (Houston, TX)See All My Reviews"The Gliere Symphony No. 3 is a gorgeous work that encompasses a huge expanse of orchestral colors and textures The recording is masterful precise and captures all of the flavor of the writing perfectly .A great find! Do not hesitate!"Report Abuse
One of the bestApril 17, 2014By Martin H. (Gilbert, AZ)See All My Reviews"I am beginning to suspect that Gliere's massive symphony cannot be captured on recording. The atmospheric writing, the enormous changes in volume, the orchestral details are too vast for any current recording technology. I say this because even the newest, this one, Downes on Chandos, Botstein on Telarc, all fall short of what I want and expect. Maybe I expect too much, after all, I happily listened to Scherchen (mono), Ormandy (2 times) and others in older sound. The performance here is as good as any. Falletta doesn't drag it out like Farberman and tries to propel the behemoth along. For the most part, it works. The slow introduction is ruined by moving too quickly, the third movement is just great. The longwinded finale is good. Sound wise- turn the volume way up so the recording makes a bigger impact. I really appreciate Naxos/Buffalo/Falletta for doing this. It's not easy or inexpensive to mount something on this scale. But, I can still imagine something better: more dramatic, more thrilling, even better sound. I hold out hope that we'll get Ilya in sacd or Blu Ray from Gergiev, Bychkov, or Jarvi. This new one though, is right up near the top of the currently available versions."Report Abuse
Very Good But Not the Best April 13, 2014By Reg Jones (Hamilton, VA)See All My Reviews"It's always a pleasure to hear a new take on this sprawling, over-the-top work. I've owned every recording made of it and rate this near the top of the complete versions. However, neither in conductorial skill nor in sound does it match the Chandos recording with the late Sir Edward Downes and the BBC Philharmonic. Falleta's reading is very good but it lacks the flare and touch of the exotic that Downes brings to the work. And the recording can't match the depth of sound stage and technicolor splashes found on the Chandos disc."Report Abuse