Stenka Razin (Symphonic Poem), Op. 13/Glazunov

April 30, 2011

Composed in 1885 at the age of twenty this was a “breakthrough” composition that was quite popular and very well received. It was published in memory of Borodin and the second melody certainly sounds like it could have come right out of Prince Igor. The main theme is the famous “Song of the Volga Boatmen” with its classic four note motif. The work opens with ominous low strings quite eerie and mysterious. As you listen you’re waiting for something to happen and the work leads the listener to the Volga theme, a very dark version in ‘B’ minor andante tempo. The poem is based on the historical figure Stenka Razin, a Cossack ataman that rebelled against the Romanov Tsar Alexis. Involved in the tale is a Persian princess who has her own theme introduced by a clarinet, quite the beautiful uplifting melody. Glazunov nicely blends the themes together in a very accessible work for a new classical listener. The sixteen minute work passes quickly and the liner notes explain the story in enough detail so one can follow along.

As part of a nineteen volume set (available individually) of the works of Glazunov, Naxos (8.553538) offers a fine performance with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Konstantin Krimets. It is a good digital recording with full spacious sound and properly mastered to control the treble and the bass as this work has both. It is coupled with five other shorter Glazunov compositions making this a nice buy especially if you are looking for other seldom played works.

The Vox Box (CDX 5118) recording of Stenka Razin comes from an analog recording of 1979 with Svetlanov and the USSR State Academy Orchestra and while it is performed well the analog transfer suffers in a couple of places with shrillness that made me cringe. The same can also be said of the Warner 6 CD box set (#41). The sound is almost identical and it is possible it could be the same recording just packaged as part of the huge release of Svetlanov performances.

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