Glazunov Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 5 ‘Slavyanskaya’
April 26, 2011
I’ve taken a keen interest in the first symphonies of composers and have found a wide variance in the maturity level ranging from a student exercise like the Youth Symphony of Rachmaninoff to Mahler whose first symphony in my humble opinion is his finest of the 10. Others such as Bruckner and Beethoven didn’t reach their supreme level until their 9th Symphony. Some such as Wagner wrote one and retired from doing anymore. Glazunov was a composer that leaned toward the side of greatness early on and maintained it through his entire life.
The premiere performance of the 1st symphony was conducted by Balakirev in 1881 and the audience was quite surprised to see a sixteen year old teenage boy in school uniform taking the bow as the composer. Even more surprising is that this was his fifth work! Many years ago I had the opportunity to listen to it on a Vox/Turnabout recording and I immediately took a liking to it as well as the other recordings of this fine composer. Many feel that he has taken a back seat to Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff but I put him on an equal footing with those mentioned. His 1st Symphony is on the same maturity level as those I spoke of and while I won’t put him in the same category as the Classic Symphony of Prokofiev or the extraordinary Shostakovich 1st it is still one that I return to listening to on a somewhat regular basis. As a result of this work and ones by Rimsky-Korsakov Mitrofan Belyayev began his publishing career enabling Russian composers to benefit from international copyright agreements.
While one can hear the influences of other composers especially Borodin and Balakirev the young Glazunov was also establishing his own sound. The first movement, an Allegro starts the symphony off on a very upbeat happy note. The happy C major key takes front and center and one immediately can hear the maturity from such a young composer. The Scherzo is very bright and this is one movement where I could definitely hear the influence of Borodin. It is short but well developed. The Adagio theme, a Slavic melody is introduced by the bassoon and clarinet in a somber funeral like pace. E minor is the key and the horn and clarinet offer moments of reflection along with the sadness of the bassoon throughout the movement. The Finale is back to an Allegro with lots of interplay between strings, brass, and the reed section. It too offers a Slavic theme making the name Slavyanskaya quite appropriate.
The Moscow Symphony under the direction of Alexander Anissimov do an adequate job and the Naxos recording offers value as well as a good digital naturally recorded sound. I found the 4th movement to be flat and uninspired when compared to other recordings.
The Svetlanov recording is part of a six CD set (#41) from Warner Classics and while the recording is a bit on the bright side the Russian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Svetlanov gives a vivacious performance. You can feel the energy. As this part of a six CD set you’ll have to want all of the symphonies.
Naxos 8.553561 or Warner Classics #41
2….Scherzo: Allegro (4:51)
4….Finale Allegro (9:58)
Total Time is 35:32
The older recording on the Vox Box( CDX 5118) came from a 1979 recording on the Melodiya label with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the USSR TV & Large Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t benefit from being recorded digitally and the overall sound quality suffers as a result. It has a shrill and is on the bright side with little bass to compensate for it. There is some glitch where it hesitates before starting. Like it wants to cough and then gets going. It is very brief but annoying at the beginning of the first movement. There is a tonal change a few seconds later where it becomes muddy and then reverts back. While I can feel the enthusiasm of the orchestra I found the Adagio to be rushed (7:49 compared to 11:23 for the Svetlanov), too much treble and not spacious at all with very tight recording. It was like listening to two completely different works with the same main theme. Can’t recommend this recording at all.