Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Glinka Album Review

If you follow this for long it will soon become apparent that I'm a big fan of Russian classical music. The father of that tradition is considered to be Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) who brought Western classical ideas to traditional Russian music and greatly influenced later compatriot composers like Balakirev, Mussorgsky and eventually Tchaikovsky. How much so on each I don't know.

Despite that there's only one piece of his which gets much recognition these days, the overture to his second opera Ruslan and Lyudmilla. It is an exciting overture with an awesome timpani part, but I always figured there had to be some more great work. Then this album came up as a weekend special on classicsonline and I couldn't pass it up. It proves Glinka wrote quite a lot of wonderful music, definitely classical but also distinctly Russian, with shifting themes and moods that never leave you bored.

So I reviewed it and the following is what I submitted to classicsonline.

When the opening dramatic and brooding strings and horns of the Capriccio Brilliante give way to a lively fare with softer strings and floating winds, you know you’re in for something special. This album leaves us with no doubt why Mikhail Glinka is considered the father of Russian classical music, but it does raise the question of why we mostly only hear one overture of his when so much of his work is musically brilliant and, more importantly, such fun to listen to.

Every time you think the tune has settled into one mode, it will take a turn. Light strings in the Souvenir from Madrid are suddenly punctuated with stirring percussion, only to fall back to the strings before a brief almost plaintiff clarinet and a rousing combination of the three. Themes are established, intertwined and mixed with seeming ease, and the themes are undeniably Russian but wonderfully wrought into the Classical mode. There are foretellings of almost every Russian composer to follow in this music, but none more so than Tchaikovsky himself.

Vassily Sinaisky leads the BBC Philharmonic on this exploration of Glinka’s Russia and cuts a deft path through the shifts and changes. The drama is captured without overwhelming the quieter moments which ring with poignancy. This is hands-down a magnificent introduction to the music of a highly influential composer who has so much more to offer than the overture to Ruslan and Lyudmilla; although when it comes to that … well, it is a triumph no doubt.

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