Glazunov: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Violin Concerto; Chant du ménestrel; Alto Saxophone Concerto; Rêverie; Concerto ballata; Méditation
PERFORMER: Rachel Barton Pine (violin), Wen-Sinn Yang (cello), Marc Chisson (alto saxophone), Alexey Serov (horn), Alexander Romanovsky (piano); Russian National Orchestra/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 67946-5

Following his splendid recordings of Glazunov’s Symphonies, José Serebrier now provides us with perhaps the first almost comprehensive survey of the composer’s concertante works on CD. I say almost comprehensive because the collection doesn’t include the Two Pieces, Op. 20 for cello and orchestra, or the Mazurka-Oberek for violin and orchestra, although both works could easily have been accommodated here.
Still these omissions shouldn’t detract from the obvious interest of hearing this largely neglected music. Whether one agrees with Serebrier’s contention that the Concertos rank among Glazunov’s greatest achievements is another matter. There can be no dispute about the Violin Concerto, its place in the repertory secured by melodic charm, inventive structure and piquant orchestration.
The two Piano Concertos don’t achieve the same level, for despite their intriguing formal construction and imaginative scoring, the thematic ideas are not sufficiently memorable, and in one instance, in the First’s opening movement, comes dangerously close to plagiarism, recalling the main melody from the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.
Glazunov’s later concertos for cello and saxophone, composed in exile in Paris near the end of his life, show no sign of decline in their craftsmanship and resourceful instrumentation, but are even more elusive with rapid changes of mood and tempo that are difficult to fathom on first hearing.
But there’s little doubt that both Serebrier and his soloists, supported by warmly idiomatic playing from the Russian National Orchestra and a beautifully clear recording, make a highly persuasive case for the reappraisal of these works. I was particularly taken with the wonderfully sweet and sensitively nuanced playing of violinist Rachel Barton-Pine, the nobility and warmth of Wen-Sinn Yang’s cello and above all the extraordinarily rich sound from pianist Alexander Romanovsky. Erik Levi