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Glazunov: 5 Novelettes, String Quartet No. 5 / St. Petersburg String Quartet

Release Date: 04/24/2001 
Label:  Delos   Catalog #: 3262   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander Glazunov
Performer:  Alla AranovskayaIlya TeplyakovAleksey KoptevLeonid Shukaev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

What a shame that these works aren't better known by the chamber-music-loving public!

Listeners who are familiar only with Glazunov's symphonic oeuvre or incidental music could well be surprised at his string quartets. They are personal works, generally serious in tone and tersely argued, brilliantly conceived for the medium. The color and evocative imagery of his orchestral music is replaced by an ease—even a playfulness—with counterpoint that never descends into the merely academic. What a shame that these works (and similar compositions by Sergei Taneyev) aren't better known by the chamber-music-loving public!

The String Quartet No. 5 dates from 1908, toward the end of Glazunov's abruptly foreshortened
Read more compositional career. (Contrary to legend, he didn't cease composing because of "the political world changing around him" or any other such romantic nonsense. Glazunov stopped because of the extremely heavy responsibilities associated with the directorship of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which he assumed in 1905 and held effectively until 1928.) It is one of his finest works, and a composition of great charm and subtlety, if perhaps a shade less immediately accessible than his String Quartet No 3, the so-called "Slavonic" (after its use of predominantly folk idioms).

The performing group on this release, the St. Petersburg String Quartet, was created in 1985 by Leningrad Conservatory graduates (yes, Glazunov's old stomping grounds). Despite their origins, this ensemble is in the modern "American" quartet mold of four equal voices whose balance inclines toward intense musical dialog rather than homogeneity of sound. This approach works very well in the Quartet No. 5, given its concentration on contrapuntal texture. Unfortunately, there are no currently competing versions I'm aware of on CD. An old Melodiya LP featuring the celebrated Shostakovich Quartet offers one of the finest "old style" quartets in this work, with a rich, plumy sound and extraordinary attention to dynamics; still I prefer the SPSQ's more linear reading.

Glazunov's Five Novelettes, composed in 1886, represent his other, more "public" side, offering delight to players and audiences alike without great intellectual effort. Each movement is ostensibly in a distinct nationalistic style: the first "In Spanish Style," the last "In Hungarian Style," and so on. But these are national styles seen through deliberately Russian folk-tinged glasses. While the third movement ("Interlude in the Old Style") does create a series of fine variations on what sounds like a Slavonic chant, the "Orientale" of the second movement is simply a pleasing scherzo in Glazunov's best Borodinesque manner.

Not surprisingly. The SPSQ has slightly more competition, here, and some of it is excellent. The Calvet Sring Quartet delivers a strongly nuanced 1931 reading of the "Olden Style" movement (Lys 298/9), while the Hollywood Quartet (Testament 1061, originally recorded in the 1950s) offers an energized, dynamic reading of all tlve pieces, wonderfully blended. The Shostakovich Quartet's superb tone is formidable again in several movements on another out-of-print LP (which, hopefully, someone will reissue, someday) -surely beauty of tone was on Glazunov's mind, given the expert performers at his disposal in turn-of-the-century Russia. But the SPSQ scores in the "Orientale" movement, whose trio is delivered over a vibratoless drone. I've not heard that interpretation before, but Glazunov, who was supposedly an expert on regional folk music, would probably have delighted in the effect.

All in all, this is a highly attractive CD of two rarely heard but compelling works, performed and recorded (in a closely miked environment) immaculately. Let's hope that the SPSQ continues with further explorations into the world of Glazunov's chamber music, for there are more gems out there.

Barry Brenesal, Fanfare, Issue 25:2 (Nov/Dec 2001)
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Works on This Recording

Novelettes (5) for String Quartet, Op. 15 by Alexander Glazunov
Performer:  Alla Aranovskaya (Violin), Ilya Teplyakov (Violin), Aleksey Koptev (Viola),
Leonid Shukaev (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Russia 
Date of Recording: 06/2000 
Venue:  1st Congregational Church, Los Angeles 
Length: 30 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 5 in D minor, Op. 70 by Alexander Glazunov
Performer:  Leonid Shukaev (Cello), Ilya Teplyakov (Violin), Aleksey Koptev (Viola),
Alla Aranovskaya (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; Russia 
Date of Recording: 06/2000 
Venue:  1st Congregational Church, Los Angeles 
Length: 28 Minutes 18 Secs. 

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