A Russian Birthday: Collective Works by Russian Composers (including Glazunov, Liadov, Scriabin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Sokolov, Vitols, Winkler, Evald, Artsybushev) The Shostakovich Quartet. Recorded: 1974- 1976 (Olympia OCD 575)
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The Independent Culture
Friday night was music night at the St Petersburg home of wood magnate, patron and publisher Mitrofan Belyayev (1836-1904), an amateur violist whose generosity and enthusiasm facilitated weekly soirees involving Russia's 19th-century musical elite. Hence the Friday Polka, a charming five-minute morceau forged jointly by Glazunov, Liadov and Nikolai Sokolov, and the more ambitious "collective" (practical rather then political) set of Variations on a Russian Theme that includes notably original contributions from Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Felix Blumenfeld and Victor Evald, not to mention less striking variations by Glazunov, Scriabin (surprisingly), Artsybushev, Vitols, Winkler and Sokolov.

Of course, variations are, by their very nature, bound to facilitate divergent styles, whereas the more ambitious String Quartet "B-La-F" (Belyayev's notational signature) saw Rimsky fashion the hefty opening Allegro, Liadov the charming Scherzo, Borodin a brief Spanish-style Serenade and Glazunov round things off with a highly professional finale. A nice idea, yes, but hardly a cogent musical argument. I rather preferred this CD's title piece, a Belyayev birthday present concocted by Glazunov, Liadov and Rimsky, affably melodious and rich in Slavic resonances.

The performances are vigorous, warm and somewhat unrefined, the recordings fairly close-set (with some audible pre-echo) and the annotation extremely helpful. Inessential, perhaps - but a most attractive (and instructive) indulgence.


Next week on the Record Reviews page: Robert Cowan reviews the Beulah reissue of Edouard van Beinum's 1940s recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto; Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson compare notes on Wolfgang Holzmair's new Philips recording of Schumann's Dichterliebe