With many thanks to Mr. Paul Underwood, the Russian National Orchestra and a generous anonymous donor.
Recording producer: Steve Epstein
My first acquaintance with the Glazunov Violin Concerto occurred at a summer music camp. I was 10, and my eight-year-old sister and I were attending the storied Meadowmount School of Music in New York's Adirondack Mountains. We lived off-campus with our mother at "The Old Mill" boarding house. Some college-age students were also staying there, including a young undergraduate from Juilliard who had the room next to ours. He was learning the Glazunov. He diligently practiced it slowly for up to eight hours daily for eight long weeks, finally performing it at the end of camp. Every day, from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, the sound of the Glazunov was in my ear, and I couldn't get enough of its beautiful melodies and intriguing musical language.
When I was 15, I finally learned the concerto myself at another summer music camp, the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine. One of my best friends from the teenage dorm was also learning it at the same time, and it was fun to encourage each other and exchange ideas for fingerings and phrasing.
The Glazunov has been part of my regular concerto repertoire ever since. It took me a while to figure out the secret to the formal structure which had previously seemed rather amorphous, like a tone poem. It turns out that the second movement is a completely self-contained entity, in a traditional ABA form. It eluded my detection at first because it's inserted into the middle of the first movement! The concerto, played without pause, proceeds like this: exposition of the first movement, entire second movement, development of the first movement, recapitulation of the first movement, cadenza of the first movement, entire third movement. As strange as that looks on paper, the musical flow of this gorgeous concerto sounds completely natural. I have never heard of any other piece of repertoire where the second movement occurs between the exposition and development of the first movement. If you ever come across one, please let me know!
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Glazunov's music is his detailed instructions regarding dynamics and tempo changes. A generation earlier, composers such as Tchaikovsky left many of the phrasing decisions to the interpreter. If you approach Glazunov's melodies as though they were Tchaikovsky's, there are certain obvious ways to shape the phrases. But these are usually not what Glazunov indicates with his very specific hairpins. At first, some of his ideas seem almost upside down or inside out, but once you get used to them, a very individual and compelling musical personality emerges.
For those of you who know and love the violin concerto but are not yet familiar with Glazunov's other works for solo instrument and orchestra, this album will be illuminating. It is always a great honor to collaborate with José Serebrier who has recorded and championed Glazunov's complete Symphonies. Maestro Serebrier and I have worked together many times in recent years on a variety of repertoire, and his intimate knowledge of Glazunov's music made this project especially rewarding for me. I would also like to give my heartfelt thanks to Steve Epstein and Richard King for their wonderful work as producer and engineer, and to the generous donors without whom this recording could not have happened.
“THE GLAZUNOV CONCERTOS”
When Warner Classics & Jazz first approached me with the proposal to record some Glazunov symphonies, shortly after our recording with the New York Philharmonic, I was both flattered and puzzled, but as the project evolved over the years, I grew more and more enthusiastic about it. As I delved deeply into the scores, I discovered a wealth of wonderful late-Romantic music that had been largely neglected. Whether Glazunov was a truly major composer, only time can decide. However, without comparing them in any way, we must remember that Bach was mostly forgotten for a very long time until Mendelssohn championed his music, while Mahler, though widely performed, did not become standard repertoire until Leonard Bernstein found in the composer’s music an expression of his own innermost feelings and championed it with revealing performances. Glazunov’s music doesn’t carry its heart on its sleeve like Mahler’s, and it doesn’t explode hysterically like Tchaikovsky’s. Like a Russian version of Brahms, it has deep emotions that are contained and controlled, sophisticated and subtle. A perfect compositional technique is obvious in every bar of music, as is the brilliant orchestration in typical late-nineteenth-century style. Glazunov’s inventive and constant harmonic shifts, abrupt changes of tempo and short contrapuntal canons established his personal style of writing from his earliest works and remained with him throughout his life.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865—1936) was born in St Petersburg, the son of a book publisher. I was delighted to find out that we had some things in common besides our Russian ancestry: like him, I started to study music at nine. Glazunov wrote his first symphony at sixteen; I wrote my first symphony at the same age and had it premiered by Leopold Stokowski the following year. I think the similarities end there, except that, strange as it sounds, we had the same manager. Glazunov made his trips to America, mostly to conduct his own works, with the legendary impresario Sol Hurok. Towards the end of his life, Sol also became my manager, as I was getting started in the field.
Rimsky-Korsakov became Glazunov’s teacher and mentor, and for a while the young composer lived with his family, as was common practice in those days. Years later, in 1905, when Rimsky-Korsakov was forced to resign as head of the St Petersburg Conservatory because he took the side of the students during an uprising, Glazunov took his place as head of the school and promptly reinstated his former teacher, who was by now a close friend and colleague. There are many stories of similarly heroic gestures by Glazunov. Shostakovich tells of countless times when Glazunov gave up part of his salary to help students in need; paid for performances of their music; found them housing; or wrote hundreds of letters of recommendation - among others for Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman and Nathan Milstein! Among the many things he did to help the young Shostakovich, Glazunov arranged for his First Symphony to be premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nikolai Malko. While still a child in my home town of Montevideo, I met Malko when he came to conduct the local orchestra. I asked him about his textbook on conducting, which had become one of my sources of apprenticeship, and specifically about the premiere of Shostakovich’s First Symphony. His eyes lit up, and his only comment was: “It’s still his best”.
I met Mischa Elman under rather humorous circumstances during my first year as associate conductor, with Leopold Stokowski, of the newly formed American Symphony Orchestra. It seems that neither Stokowski nor Elman was willing to travel across Manhattan for a private rehearsal of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto prior to that with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The maestro asked me to go to Elman’s home and annotate on his score how Elman played it, the tempi, etc. - a most unusual request. I had heard Elman when I was a child in Montevideo, in a wonderful year when both Heifetz and Elman made South American tours. Our meeting in his apartment should have been filmed. He never played a note of the concerto. Instead, violin in hand, he lectured angrily for an hour that he probably should not perform in Carnegie Hall since “another violinist” had just been named its president and would now have access to his box office sales. At the end, he changed his tune and proudly informed me that he had played the premiere of the Glazunov Violin Concerto, finishing by saying: “I hope you and I play it in New York sometime”. It was the first time I heard about that concerto.
The five Glazunov concertos are among his greatest accomplishments. The 1904 Violin Concerto has deservedly become his most performed composition. Heifetz made it his own, but since then most violinists have incorporated it into their repertoire. The legendary Leopold Auer, to whom the concerto is dedicated, gave the premiere in St Petersburg in 1905, and a year later Mischa Elman gave the British premiere conducted by Sir Henry Wood. Leopold Stokowski conducted the Concerto in his debut concert with the LSO in 1912, with Efrem Zimbalist as soloist. (Zimbalist was my violin teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1956.) In 1972, at the age of ninety, Stokowski marked the sixtieth anniversary of his LSO debut and again included the Glazunov, with violinist Silvia Marcovici.
Glazunov used a similar “model” to this work for the Piano Concerto No.2, and much later on for the Concerto Ballata for cello, and for the Saxophone Concerto - in fact all the concertos except the Piano Concerto No.1. All the concertos last approximately twenty minutes, and the constantly changing speeds of the many sections are played without interruption, making them into one-movement concertos. However, this was not quite a “formula”, because each concerto is very different in form and concept. The uninterrupted sequence has a great historical model in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Like Mendelssohn’s, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, within the one-movement format, includes the three traditional segments: Moderato, Andante sostenuto and Allegro. The finale builds to an irresistible climax, in contrast to the lyrical prose of the opening section. Glazunov, who played a variety of instruments, wrote his own cadenza. This work has an irresistible beauty, and is perhaps more carefully drafted than many of his other compositions.
The Piano Concerto No.1 of 1911 has melodic and stylistic similarities to Rachmaninov’s Second of 1900, but the unusual form adopted by Glazunov is very different. Of the two movements, the second is a set of variations, each with a distinctive title and character - a technique he used for some of the scenes in his ballets.
The Piano Concerto No.2 was premiered on 29 October 1917 in the Small Hall of the Petrograd Conservatory with S.V. Bentser as soloist. The Paris premiere eleven years later featured the pianist Elena Gavrilova, whom Glazunov subsequently adopted as his daughter after marrying her mother, Olga Nikolayevna, the following year. With the Sixth Symphony, the Concerto formed part of Glazunov’s programme at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in December 1929, with Elena as soloist. Both concertos were very popular in the first half of the twentieth century and featured in the repertoire of many major pianists.
The Concerto Ballata of 1931 was dedicated to Pablo Casals, but there is no historical record of Casals ever having played it. It’s the kind of music that takes more than one listening to absorb. The constant changes of mood and speed, and its formidable technical demands, make it particularly complicated for performers and listeners. Ballata (no relation to ballade), was an Italian term used mostly in the fourteenth century to represent a musical and poetic form with similar first and last stanzas. The name originated from ballare, to dance. Ballata was widely used in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and in the fourteenth century Francesco Landini wrote a large quantity of them. Guillaume Dufay, in the fifteenth century, was among the last to use this form and name. It isn’t clear why Glazunov used the term in his title for the cello concerto, since the form, which is similar to that of his other one-movement concertos, doesn’t reflect the simple A—B—B—A form of the early ballate. It seems obvious that he was inspired by the poetic implications of the term, rather than the ancient formula. This beautiful work, one of his last compositions, should appeal to the lovers of his Violin Concerto, since it has many of the same qualities and melodic content.
Glazunov composed the Chant du ménestrel (Minstrel’s Song) in 1900, a tender, nostalgic period piece in a simple A—B—A form. However, when the theme returns, it is assigned to the oboe, and the cello soloist accompanies with the ascending scale previously performed by the woodwinds. The middle section provides a contrasting change of mood. Glazunov wrote many short pieces like this, but Chant du ménestrel is one of the most memorable.
The Alto Saxophone Concerto of 1934 was written at the insistence of Sigurd Rascher and was dedicated to him. I performed it with Rascher in 1961 in Utica, New York, with my first orchestra, and was fascinated to hear how he constantly had to badger Glazunov to attempt and then complete the work, which he did at times from a hospital bed. The Concerto has become a staple of the narrow saxophone and orchestra repertoire. Written in several short sections performed without interruption and scored for string orchestra, it was to be Glazunov’s last work.
ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Concerto Ballata in C major for cello, Op. 108
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 92
Concerto in E flat major for alto saxophone, Op. 109
Reverie in D flat major for horn, Op. 24