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CD Review

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka

Orchestral Works

  • a Life for the Tsar (Orchestral excerpts)
  • Valse-Fantaisie
  • Kamarinskaya
  • Capriccio brillante on the Jota Aragonesa
  • Souvenir d'une nuit d'été a Madrid
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/Loris Tjeknavorian
Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA1075 DDD 70:39
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Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) is often called the "father of Russian music." Tchaikovsky commented that the single work Kamarinskaya contained the whole of Russian music as an acorn contains a whole oak tree. Glinka's devotion to Russian music wasn't always the case, however. As a young man, he was fascinated with Italian composers to the point of imitation, and it wasn't until he was about thirty that he committed himself to a nationalist style of composition.

This is a useful CD with little competition. About half is comprised of orchestral excerpts from a Life for the Tsar – also known as Ivan Susanin – the first of Glinka's two operas. (The second is Ruslan and Lyudmila.) After a slow, imposing introduction, the Overture's main section portrays troubled political times; in the early 1600s, Poland was attempting to gain control of Russia by putting a puppet leader on the throne and by squelching any would-be leaders with Russian independence on their minds. This is followed by four dances associated with festivities given by Polish nobles: a noble Polonaise, a spirited Krakówiak (which sounds disconcertingly like Offenbach), an aristocratic Waltz, and finally a Mazurka – still genteel, but more athletic. The selection ends with an Epilogue, which confirms the Russian heroism, implied by the Overture, bringing the proceedings to a stirring end.

A Valse-Fantaisie, orchestrated near the end of Glinka's life from a piano work he had written nearly twenty years earlier, presents a string of attractive tunes, most of them gently melancholy. Tchaikovsky clearly was inspired by this work, as well as by Kamarinskaya, which follows it on this CD. The latter work is in ABA'B' form and is typically Russian. The first section is governed by a measured tune, and the second is an energetic dance, with the theme introduced by the strings, entering in turn from top to bottom. The Jota Aragonesa also begins slowly, but the tempo picks up when a solo violin introduces the main theme, one that also was used by Franz Liszt. This is Glinka's most famous tune (apart from the overture to Ruslan), and ironically, it appears to have been collected during his extended visit to Madrid and is not original at all! The second "Spanish Overture" is similarly brilliant, although not as well known as the first.

Tjeknavorian has had success after success with the Armenian Philharmonic and their series of recordings for AS&V containing music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, and others. The orchestra definitely lacks weight, but the transparency of their playing compensates. The string tone is characterful and pointed, rather than rich. Western orchestras would play this music with much more upholstery, yet this approach has the ring of authenticity. Tjeknavorian has driven hard on other recordings; here he is in an unusually relaxed mood. The engineering by Brian Culverhouse is good, and the booklet notes (by Philip Taylor) are adequate.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle