Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936) Violin Concerto in A major, Op.82
I: Moderato II: Andante III: Allegro
Dating from 1904, this is one of Glazunov’s best-known works. It embodies the traditional fast – slow – fast structure of a traditional concerto, but it is played without pauses between its three sections.
The whole piece evolves from material stated at the outset. An initial theme is announced by soloist, with accompaniment by clarinets and bassoons, and then there is a more romantic second theme, accompanied by the strings. The second, slower section develops these ideas, eventually leading to an extended cadenza. The third and final section provides a recapitulation in the form of a rondo, with more opportunity for virtuosity from the soloist. Glazunov admired musical ideas from both Russia and the West. In this piece, there are hints of Russian folk tunes, with substantial elaborations.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 5, Op. 47
I: Moderato II: Allegretto III: Largo IV: Allegro non troppo
Shostakovich spent his entire career under the Soviet regime, and he was its first major composer to achieve international recognition. He enjoyed enormous success with his first symphony, written as a 20-year old student, under the tutelage of Glazunov at the Leningrad conservatory. However his next three symphonies were complete failures, and the score of the 4th was even withdrawn without performance. In 1936, communist party critics savaged his avant-garde opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and similarly denounced a ballet in which Soviet peasants on collective farms were supposedly portrayed inaccurately. While sympathetic to Soviet ideology, Shostakovich resented the artistic restrictions placed on him, especially in a large country such as the USSR, where many diverse cultures co-existed.
Shostakovich was officially rehabilitated after the triumphant 1937 premiere of his 5th Symphony. It received an enthusiastic response by audience and critics alike, including Tolstoy writing in Isvestia. Possibly to appease his political opponents, Shostakovich had subtitled the work as “…a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism”.
The whole work is bursting with melody, and employs a large orchestration. The first movement begins with an initial leaping, wide figure in the strings, followed by a second longer melody. Musical development is achieved by a process of “accumulation” of various themes, which periodically results in strong dissonance, and clashing harmonies and rhythms. The second movement has the form of a rustic waltz, distinctly inspired by Mahler. In true scherzo tradition, Shostakovich occasionally throws in bars with an extra beat! There are two different waltz melodies, one mainly in the lower strings, and the other mainly in the woodwinds. There are also playful solos for flute and the concertmaster.
While the second movement allegretto is probably the best-known section of this work, the largo arguably includes its finest music, and it is once again inspired by Mahler. There are notable solos for the oboe over tremolo strings, other woodwinds and harp. The finale is a triumphal march, occasionally reviving material from earlier movements, then moving on towards a pounding conclusion.
Notes © by STEPHEN WALTER.