Glazunov: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: BBC NO of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
Of the two Glazunov cycles ambling along in comfortable carpet slippers, Tadaaki Otaka’s proceeds with its usual sheen and accomplishment, while Valery Polyansky’s is getting better all the time. It helps that Chandos has persuaded its Russian engineers to drop the added reverberation of earlier instalments, pulling the sound into clearer if slightly hedged-in focus, but the Russian State Symphony Orchestra is now beginning to acquire real character after years of post-Soviet scrawniness. Polyansky here gives a performance much like the Sixth itself – sensible without being dull, and occasionally fondant-fanciful (the scherzino variation of the second-movement theme and variations and the fairy-bells ‘Intermezzo’ both need exactly this level of clean-edged charm). You only need to play the leonine opening unison of Otaka’s Fifth, though, to hear a natural gift for characterisation on a different level, ushering in a spacious reading graced by the warmest imaginable recorded sound. Not that this symphony prompts a strong response: of all Glazunov’s middle-era offspring from the late 1890s and early 1900s, it feels the most synthetic. I’ve noticed how we annotators have recourse to spot-the-inspiration more often with Glazunov than perhaps any other composer. Tchaikovsky and Wagner are inescapable, of course; but at least Glazunov tries to do interesting things with structure. Funny, then, that even the stubbornly cyclical finale of the Seventh could just as well serve for the Fifth, though the later symphony’s exclusively pastoral opening movement and its unusually resourceful scherzo are outstanding among Glazunov’s output. Perhaps Neeme Järvi on Orfeo does even more with them than Otaka; but his Bamberg brass are not up to plush BBC NOW standards, which make the BIS Fifth a clear front runner. Polyansky’s companion is the early Characteristic Suite, a snapshot of nationalist flavours from the 1880s which makes rather heavy going as a sequence – one or two numbers at a time is enough. David Nice