Alexander Glazunov

Concerto ballata for cello & orchestra in C major, Op. 108

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    Old fashioned, yes, and even nostalgic for a lost world. But this rich yet concise Concerto-Ballata contradicts a widespread impression that the last decade and more of the life of Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936) saw a marked decline in his creative abilities. It has the easily flowing Russian melodic qualities that had always been a characteristic of Glazunov's music. His music never departed from that style, which was derived from Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other musical heroes of Glazunov's youth. And that was considered a strike against him in the ledgers of those who kept score on creative musicians on the basis of their progress or evolution through new trends in music. Strong and beautiful works such as this strongly suggest that Glazunov was onto something when he decided to keep the style that worked for him more or less unchanged. It can even be argued that in the middle period of his career, when he seemed to join a trend toward large, important statements, his music became too inflated. Later, lighter, and smaller-scale works such as his Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82 (1904), have remained more popular than most of his symphonies. The Concerto-Ballata is a work very much from the same mold as the violin concerto and ought to appeal to its many fans. Glazunov wrote the instant work for the great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, engaging to write it after he was allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union, which was becoming less and less viable for him as a place to live and work. Often looked after by his daughter, pianist Elena Glazunova (he evidently needed watching for a tendency toward alcoholism), he turned out some quite fine music in these years, including the saxophone concerto and a saxophone quartet. The Concerto-Ballata is a 20-minute, one-movement work. It has all the melodic qualities of his Chant du ménestral, Op. 71 (1901), long a favorite for cellists and their audiences. Perhaps the composer thought of the same hypothetical minstrel when he imagined this work, a Concerto-Ballata that also evokes days when acts of chivalry inspired musical accounts. The piece is in a warm, nostalgic mood throughout. It seems to evoke an age that Russians call bogatyrskii, after the bogatyrs, a kind of holy knight often with special powers granted by God in the furtherance of their mission. (Borodin's Symphony No. 2 is sometimes subtitled "Bogatyrskaya" in Russia.) So this concerto has something of the quality of the slow movement of that great work. After the storyteller's preliminary statement, two main themes appear: One is warm and ardent; the other, with more martial brass, has more to do with the adventurous content of the ballad. The melodic style is at times parlando, possessing a quality that suggests spoken narration. After some treatment of the adventurous theme, the central section then turns the ardent theme into a love story. A cadenza for the solo cello leads the music back into the knightly adventures, leading to a dramatic conclusion.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Signum Classics SIGCD 407
    2014 Melodiya MELCD 1002131
    2012 Warner Classics 679463
    2012 Warner Classics 2564664674
    2012 Warner Classics 662749
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967839827
    2011 Warner Classics 2564679465
    1999 Naxos 8 553932
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 572296-2
    1997 Chandos 9528
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 72016
    1993 Koch Schwann 311119