GLAZUNOV: The Seasons, Op. 67. Scénes de Ballet.
Scéne dansante, Op. 81
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Anissimov, cond.
NAXOS 553915 (DDD) (B) TT: 79:22
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Glazunov (1865-1936) became the golden boy of music in Romanov Russia after Balakirev discovered him in 1879. Rimsky-Korsakov, who became his teacher in 1880, considered him his favorite pupil. Glazunov wrote a first symphony at the age of 16 and composed copiously thereafter until 1905, when he was appointed to succeed Rimsky as Director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Selflessly for the next 25 years he taught, administrated, and went on solitary champagne binges, as Stravinsky reported with gleeful malice in one of his memoirs. Glazunov was drunk at the premiere of Rachmaninoff's First Symphony, for example, and conducted atrociously -- a debacle that the press blamed on the young composer, who became an alcoholic in turn, unable to compose until cured by a hypnotherapist.
Meanwhile, in 1900, the Imperial Ballet introduced a new Glazunov ballet, The Seasons -- an instantaneous hit, but the last major ballet score in the Tchaikovsky tradition. Stravinsky changed everything in 1910 with The Firebird, although it and subsequent works were composed for Paris, not St. Petersburg audiences. Prokofiev followed in the new, anti-traditional style after he too left Bolshevik Russia, in the wake of Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. Even Glazunov defected from the Soviet Union; he never came home from a Parisian trip to judge an international contest.
But The Seasons, if seldom danced anymore, became his best-known concert-hall piece. From the same conductor and orchestra who've recorded Symphonies 2 and 7 for Naxos, as well as Glazunov's evening-long Raymonda ballet, the works on this newest disc are timbrally authentic -- played by a recognizably Russian ensemble, not one of Western Europe's homogenized super-engines. Tempi are sensible, the performance is stylish, and Anissimov's reading is genially nostalgic. He knows and obviously cherishes the composer.
Naxos has wisely placed the eight sections of Scénes de Ballet (from 1894), and the 10-minute Scéne dansante from 1904 ahead of, rather than after, The Seasons. The latter has 15 access bands, whereas a rival 1993 coupling by Edo de Waart and the Minnesota Orchestra on Telarc has only one for each season, and omits Scéne dansante (no great loss, pleasant though the latter piece is).
Naxos' sleeve reveals that The Seasons and both Scénes were recorded in June-August of 1995, along with Raymonda and Symphonies 2/7. A coupling of Symphonies 1 and 4 just out on Naxos (to be reviewed) came a year later. Sound produced by "Betta Inc." in Mosfilm's Moscow Studio has a concert-hall atmosphere if not Telarc's dazzling Minneapolis sonics. De Waart is marginally brisker, sometimes verging on matter-of-fact, but indubitably enjoys the music and invigorates the orchestra.
Naxos has better program notes for listeners who still read, and one outstanding advantage: Anissimov conducts that gorgeous "Pas d'action" in Scénes de Ballet more lovingly than I have words to describe. With the price of Naxos notching up dollar by dollar - now $7 per disc at the local Tower store -- you might wait for a sale to add this commendable effort, having first checked out versions by Ashkenazy, Mravinsky, Robert Irving (R.E.B.'s favorite) and Desormiére, if you can find them, but especially De Waart from where I listen.