Glière Horn Concerto; Bronze Horseman Suite

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Glière Horn Concerto; Bronze Horseman Suite

  • Bronze Horseman
  • Concerto for Horn and Orchestra

Poor old Gliere has had his sensitive knuckles rapped for writing the same kind of music in Soviet Russia that Korngold, Rozsa et al. had free rein to produce in Hollywood. True, much in his post-Revolution scores is far less opulently, or even interestingly, romantic than the inspirations of the three symphonies completed in the first decade of the twentieth century (and honourably championed by Downes and the BBC Philharmonic in previous Chandos issues, 7/93, 7/92 and 5/92). But as a composer with his roots in the nineteenth century – and remember he was old enough to be the child Prokofiev's first influential tutor in 1902 – he was able to carry on in a revised (or censored) version of his youthful style far more convincingly than did any other composer after the death of Glazunov. The big romantic melodies of The Bronze Horseman rarely seem contrived; for a product of 1949, one of the fallow years following Zhdanov's infamous conferences, it seems a remarkably honest score.
The real problem is whether it comes close to its Pushkin source, known to every Russian, in which a half-demented young clerk is chased through the streets of St Petersburg by the bronze statue of Peter the Great (take note, Chandos: the cover illustration of a palakh-box bogatyr has no relevance). One of the many questions left unanswered by the accompanying note is what kind of full-length ballet it is, and how the very unchoreographic central premise of the tale was dealt with; for the 45 - minute suite features the terrifying statue not at all, conjuring the dark atmosphere of the tale only in the chromatic introduction and a very unsuccessful slice of storm music for the floods that drown the clerk's beloved. The rest is lush pas de deux lyricism – with neat thumbnail portraits of the timid hero and his girl a step or two behind Prokofiev's character-studies for the 1936 Eugene Onegin, but attractive nevertheless – and nationalistic routines for the corps de ballet. The central dancing scene sounds as if it were scored by the enthusiastic percussionist of the Bolshoi (the man who touched up Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella); it needs a slightly more over-the-top performance than this – and why no heady final accelerando as Gliere proposes?
Otherwise, there are subtler touches – a 5/4 scherzo for a fortune-telling scene a la Glazunov or Borodin, plenty of affable Russian woodwind solos (again of a Glazunov-like cut) beautifully taken and the fascination of the placid apotheosis, the anthem-like ''Hymn to the Great City'' – fascinating because this is the piece which made Shostakovich shudder as it blared forth from Leningrad railway station loudspeakers. The Horn Concerto is utterly straight, boasts the occasional attractive melody and could have been written in the 1880s (performance date: 1952). The solo part proves undemanding and rarely embroiders its themes, which may be why Richard Watkins has treated himself to a longer cadenza than the one in the score; to be honest, it's not much more arresting. A disc worth investigating, but only if you've already heard Downes's performances of the symphonies and the superior Red Poppy ballet suite.'

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