Glazunov: Introduction and Dance of Salome; The King of the Jews

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COMPOSERS: Glazunov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Introduction and Dance of Salome; The King of the Jews
PERFORMER: Russian State Symphonic Cappella, Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9824
In his exemplary booklet essay, David Nice quotes Glazunov’s description of Richard Strauss as an ‘infamous scriboilleur’. It was a rash denunciation, for Glazunov’s attractive if derivative incidental music for Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé, written for its St Petersburg premiere (which was designed by Bakst, choreographed by Fokine and starred Ida Rubinstein) three years after Strauss’s opera, owes more than a nod to Straussian harmonies, and was surely influenced by the opera’s glittering colours and opulent textures.

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Both Glazunov’s Salomé and his music for a mystery play, The King of the Jews, are defined also by an aura of cod-orientalism that owes debts both to Rimsky-Korsakov (think of Sheherazade or a song like ‘The Nightingale’) and Mussorgsky (the dance of the Persian slaves in Khovanshchina). Yet the overriding atmosphere remains Russian, both in its sweeping Romanticism, and its references to Orthodox liturgical tradition.

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The outstanding performances on this disc make a convincing case for these obscure yet powerful works. The mighty male voices of the Russian State Symphonic Cappella are memorably impressive and finely balanced by the lucent lyricism of the women’s. But it’s the shattering tension of the orchestral playing that really makes the disc special, the seemingly impregnable wall of brass offset by string playing of infinite tautness to thrilling dramatic effect. Claire Wrathall