December 23, 2013
Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956), son of a maker of wind instruments, was of Belgian descent born in Kiev. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1894 where he studied from Arensky, Taneyev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov graduating in 1900. He spent two years teaching Prokofiev and when he returned to the Conservatory there paths crossed again this time with Gliere conducting Prokofiev in a performance of his first piano concerto. It was Gliere who was heir to the romantic Russian tradition which pleased Stalin, being recognized with various state awards. Prokofiev on the other hand was condemned along with Shostakovich and Miaskovsky.
His third symphony “Ilya Mourometz” was completed in 1911 and is based on the ancient Russian epic of the warrior Ilya Mourometz. It is a massive work of nearly 80 minutes that was orchestrated for large symphony orchestra and has been subjected to major cuts, revisions, tempo changes and re-orchestrations. As a result of this there have been some pretty poor performances of this work. However, one who understood the work Scherchen, is now available through the rediscovery label (RD 025) and his version is uncut. It was remastered from the original Westminster recording which had all sorts of problem but David Gideon seems to have corrected them and offers a superior mono archive recording. This was one of the single mike recordings that were popular in the 50’s, something that Mercury was well known for. I’m providing the link so you can listen to it for free. You can also download basic artwork. You’ll need to scroll down the page until you find it. http://rediscovery.us/conductors2.html
1… Wandering Pilgrims; Ilya Mourometz (23:18) begins with rumblings from the bowels of the orchestra primarily the basses and cellos. It offers a theme which will be developed and repeated in the work very slowly. After several minutes it slowly comes out of the darkness and the brass motif signals a rise to power of Ilya. Remember he lay dormant for many years.
2… Ilya and Solovei the Brigand (22:00); Shimmering strings along with a contrabassoon are featured as this movement also begins in the lower section of the orchestra. The glissando of the harp and flutes fluttering slowly build as a new melody is introduced one of heroic and beauty as something is overcome. The flutes indicate that beauty is all around and waiting to emerge.
3… At the Court of Vladimir the Mighty Sun (7:03); By far the shortest movement as well as upbeat the scherzo remains for most of the movement before a crescendo builds and crashes down giving rise to the scherzo again.
4… The Heroic Deeds and Petrification of Ilya Mourometz (27:25); The struggle continues with the rumbling of the percussion, a heroic call from the brass a brief return to the theme from the first movement. The conclusion is slow in developing but steady an overall complaint of the work by some who feel the ideas developed by Gliere could have been accomplished in far less time. Perhaps this was the reason for the cuts it was given by Stokowski as an example over the years.
There are many available recordings of this work but as far as performance and completeness are concerned there are none finer. While the single mike technique won’t give you close to digital quality it will give you a distinct sound of the solo instruments that sometimes gets lost in trying to capture the fullness of the orchestra.