Classical Review: A star - of the second rank

Music on Radio 3

Glazunov has not been sufficiently performed in this country for his creative personality to become properly focused or for an influential body of opinion to form concerning his true scope. Our impression of him has been blurred by irrelevances like his pupil Shostakovich's bizarre tale of how, during composition classes at the Petrograd Conservatoire, Glazunov would duck behind the lid of his desk to suck vodka through a straw.

What has emerged is an insubstantial image of a wunderkind whose astonishing First Symphony was written in his teens (he was born in 1865 and lived through to 1936) but who never subsequently threw off the mantle of Borodin, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, and who sank during the final decades of his life into a stultifying academicism and, eventually, creative impotence.

The feeling is that his incredible fluency precluded profundity of utterance, and immediate successors like Stravinsky, Scriabin and even Rachmaninov quickly made him irrelevant. On grounds of historic necessity, it is certainly only too easy to dismiss this conservative, but oddly touching, and certainly never trivial, composer.

It is true that, despite being born a full generation after Tchaikovsky and his St Petersburg contemporaries, Alexander Glazunov added nothing to the musical language he evolved from them. Not for him the wild intensity of Rachmaninov, or the proto-serial processes of late Scriabin, least of all the iconoclasm of the young Stravinsky - three figures with whom he need not have been historically out of touch.

But these facts should not lead us to treat Glazunov casually. Even in the pedestrian performance that his Fifth Symphony received on BBC Radio 3 last week from Tadaaki Otaka and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, a special quality of poetry emerged. Strangely, that quality is a romantic innocence, expressed with a purity of language which is the last thing you might have expected from a composer writing towards the end of a well- used tradition. Glazunov did not feel compelled to adopt any of the harmonic extravagances of late romanticism or early modernism, nor did he assume their agonies and ecstasies of expression. He managed to keep alive the high-romantic Russian style some way beyond its sell-by date, and he did so with Mendelssohnian grace and elegance.

Of all second-ranking composers (never let's call him second-rate), Glazunov is among the most engaging and inventive. More than one sophisticate of my acquaintance found themselves unexpectedly bowled over by the structural energy of the Third Symphony's scherzo, for instance, in which no direct repeats occur; while the disruptive shadows that hang over the Eighth prove that Glazunov was able to savour the irony of his situation and articulate it with heroic power.

Once one of the most palliative and unenterprising of programmes, Radio 3's Composer of the Week has in recent years given us far more to think about, and not for the first time it dealt seriously this week with one of the greats of this century's popular music. Listening to song after song by Cole Porter, whose sharp wit and passionate romanticism were matched by structural iconoclasm and the greatest originality of melody and harmony, one lamented the plunge into bathos and commercialism that marked much that followed his golden age. And there were Kern, Berlin, Gershwin and Rodgers too, all pouring out great music at the same time. Paul Guinery's narration celebrated this explosion of talent with a light but informing touch.

This week's broadcasts of `Composer of the Week: Cole Porter' end today at 12 noon; the whole series is repeated next week, Monday-Friday at 11.30pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor