Glazunov: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No.5

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Glazunov
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No.5
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Yondani Butt
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1051
Glazunov was only an important symphonist in the parochial milieu of St Petersburg towards the end of the 19th century. But he could go through the motions with wonderful facility, and his symphonies do deserve occasional hearing for their best tunes, their inventiveness and formal dexterity. They’re nicely varied, too, as this clutch demonstrates.

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Written when he was only 21 and totally in thrall to Borodin, No. 2 is a charmer, the first ‘second-generation’ Russian nationalist symphony of distinction, with a fine fiery scherzo and youthfully fresh, unabashed melodic invention that climaxes in the great juicy Steppeland tune of the finale. The gently pastoral No. 4 is structurally the most original, though it’s No. 5 that has the more obvious pretensions to greatness, with the first movement’s slightly self-conscious Wagnerisms, the fleet, balletic scherzo and the rumbustious festivities of the finale.

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Polyansky projects No. 2 with all the fervour it demands, summoning memories of my long-treasured Melodiya LP with Boris Khaikin and the Moscow Radio SO. Yondani Butt’s Nos 4 and 5 strike me by contrast as a mite underpowered, and the RPO less at ease with the idioms of St Petersburg classicism, but these are good, solid readings nonetheless, and everyone clearly enjoyed themselves in No. 5’s finale. The Coronation Cantata for Tsar Nicholas II, though an irredeemably occasional work, has some attractive inspirations and is well worth hearing once when performed and recorded as opulently as this. Calum MacDonald