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Glazunov Solo Piano Music Vol 4

Prelude and 2 Mazurkas, Op 25, Barcarolle (1887), 2 Impromptus Op 54, Idylle Op103, Triumphal March Op 40, Song of the Volga Boatmen Op 97, In modo religioso Op 38, Pas de caractere Op 68, Piano Sonata No 2 Op 75.


Stephen Coombs (piano)

Holst singers/ Stephen Layton (triumphal march only)


Hyperion Helios CDH55224


Glazunov is a classic 'neglected composer.' A key figure within the Russian tradition, he links Rimsky-Korsakov (his teacher), Tchaikovsky (his friend) and Shostakovich (his most famous pupil.) It is musicologically very valuable to have a survey of his piano music. Alas, much of it (as with Tchaikovsky's own very large and neglected piano oeuvre) must count as pleasant rather than profound, more stereotypical than archetypical. Coombs writes his own notes, but his enthusiasm for the repertoire may not be universally shared. The Barcarolle on the black keys, for example, which he commends as not seeming contrived, may well come across as (necessarily) melodically limited. The Volga Boat song and the Triumphal March both seem to be extraordinarily predictable treatments.


Whereas Coombs sees Glazunov as a master of all forms, the unspecialised listener is more likely to think that the reference to ‘salon miniatures' (as one of these forms) sums up the extent of Glazunov's abilities as a keyboard composer. Moreover, Coombs' approach is too monochrome, in particular it is often bombastic rather than subtle, hectoring, not beguiling the listener. As so often when the modern taste for comprehensive surveys is satisfied, there is little evidence of the specialness of any particular work. Coombs does not seem to draw many colours from the piano, nor to have a true sense of pianissimo. The scherzo of the sonata, for example, again talked up in the notes, lacks any sense of irony or playfulness.


This disc is most interesting in showing the consistency of the Russian tradition – the influence of the French salon and of folk-inspired themes, and the conservative Romanticism (despite Coombs' claim of harmonic adventurism) that lasted well into the 20 th century.


The recording (from 1995, this is a Helios reissue) is not helpful, resonant and congested at once, and adds to the sense that the experience is unvaried. This recording is likely to appeal most to those who have already have the acquired taste for this repertoire, and among them, I note there have been excellent reviews. For others, there is the temptation to feel that the music simply washes over one, but does not touch the heart.


© Ying Chang