Sunday 13 January 2013

Complete Duets with Cello - Glière rarities from Naxos

The reputation of Reinhold Moritzevich Glière (1875-1956) has not fared well over the years. It is thought by many that the quality of his music fell dramatically after the Russian revolution due to his having complied with diktats of the Soviet authorities.

This is probably not an accurate assessment given that his work could be very uneven during his earlier years. You only have to compare his First and Second Symphonies, written 1900 and 1908 respectively, with his Symphony No. 3 ‘Ilya Muromets’, from 1911, to see how variable his works could be.

The fact that his Hymn to a Great City was played over the loudspeakers at one of Leningrad’s railway stations (Testimony – The Memoirs of Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov – Hamish Hamilton 1979) also furthers the view that Glière was a bland composer very much under the control of the Soviet authorities. Yet, at his best, Glière produced some very fine works, his third symphony being amongst them.

A new release from Naxos gives us the complete duets with cello featuring Glière’s Eight Duets for Violin and Cello Op.39, his Ballade for Cello and Piano Op.4, the Ten Duets for Two Cellos Op.53 and Twelve Album Leaves for Cello and Piano Op.51. The artists on this new disc are Martin Rummel and Alexander Hülshoff (cellos), Friedemann Eichhorn (violin) and Till Alexander Körber (piano).

It must be said that none of these works plumbs the depths of emotion but that is no reason why this music, some of it very attractive, should not provide enjoyment.
The Eight Duets for Violin and Cello Op.39 are played alternately by the cellists Martin Rummel and Alexander Hülshoff with the violinist Friedemann Eichhorn.

They open with an attractive prelude: andante followed by a gavotte that dances along nicely with an often rustic feel. The Cradle Song is a rocking tranquillo that oddly has quite astringent textures for the cello. There is a canzonetta with an attractive theme, though the cello part is often rather bland and repetitive, and an intermezzo with a light, attractive melody. The impromptu is a more interesting piece as Alexander Hülshoff and Friedemann Eichhorn have more to do, with each playing a kind of counterpoint to each other. The scherzo has plenty of lively rhythmic bounce and is a great little piece whilst the final étude is a hectic allegro molto where the performers give it everything they’ve got in a scintillating performance.

All three performers certainly give these pieces plenty of verve and enthusiasm, making the best of what is probably not one of Glière’s finest pieces.

The short Ballade for Cello and Piano Op. 4 borders on being a salon piece, such is its overall feel. Here it receives an enthusiastic performance from Martin Rummel and Till Alexander Körber that makes the most of its more animated passages.

Rather more enjoyable is Glière’s Ten Duets for Two Cellos Op.53 opening with a comodo (literally – a convenient pace) with some lovely interweaving of the two cellos around each other, followed by a brilliantly played leggiero, a piece that could easily come to grief in less skilled hands given the rapid close harmonies between the two cellos. There is a lyrical Con Moto, a lightly sprung vivace, showing how well these two cellist play together and an andante, a melancholy piece, with the strings of the two cellos blending as one instrument, making for a wonderful sound.

In the energico, Martin Rummel and Alexander Hülshoff play as though echoing each other and there is an attractive central melody. The animato again has the two soloists weaving around each other beautifully whilst the giacoso calls for more incisiveness that both cellists seem to enjoy immensely. The andantino is a rather odd piece that is nevertheless quiet attractive, with the second seeming to just buzz along with a little tune for the first cello. The concluding capriccio is a delightful little piece to round off this set, with the cellos dancing around each other.

I really rather enjoyed these pieces and was particularly struck as to how Glière sometimes creates such a full, almost orchestral, sound from the strings of the two cellos, an aspect of the music very much brought out by these cellists.

Finally on this disc are the Twelve Album Leaves for Cello and Piano Op.51played by Martin Rummel (cello) and Till Alexander Körber (piano). These pieces really sing, having the character of songs without words.

The piano introduces the con moto which again sounds as though it is going to be salon music but, with the entry of the cello in a richly melodic theme, this work takes off with an impassioned theme played with great feeling by Martin Rummel. The following comodo continues much in the same vein though less passionately. There is an andantino, a slightly wistful piece with some lovely cello sounds in the lower register then a short andante con moto leading to an andantino poco animato, a lighter piece that nevertheless rises to a climax perhaps justifying the animato marking. The allegretto has a slight eastern influence with a folk music feel infusing the piece.

The allegretto ma non troppo is nicely expansive and is followed by a piece marked affanato. I don’t mind admitting that I haven’t previously come across such a tempo marking but discover that it means 'breathless' and it is, indeed, a fast moving piece that shows some terrific playing from both performers. The cantabile is a lovely singing piece whilst the con tristezza has an attractive dance like theme. The penultimate andante is a lovely tune, again sounding very folk influenced and the final animato is a stirring, rippling, turbulent piece with just a hint of Rachmaninov briefly infusing the piano part.

Both pianist and cellist play wonderfully in what, for me, is the most attractive work on this disc.

The recording sounds quite closely miked and I would have preferred a little more air around the performers. This tends to make the string sound slightly congested in some climaxes but not to the extent of spoiling one’s enjoyment of the music.

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