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Reinhold Gliere
Symphony No. 3, Op. 42
"Ilya Murometz"

Review by Karl Lozier
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Reinhold Gliere Symphony No. 3, Op. 42 "Ilya Murometz"

SACD Number: Telarc Hybrid SACD/CD SACD-60609


  Reinhold Gliere was born in Kiev, Russia in 1875. In his early years he carried on the styles and traditions of the Russian nationalist school. He had been significantly influenced by Tchaikovsky. One of his teachers in Russia was Ippolitov-Ivanov a favorite lesser-known composer of mine (Caucasian Sketches). The Caucasian Sketches is descriptive or so-called program music. After a period of study in Germany he returned to Russia and became a teacher at the Conservatory in Moscow and his music started to reflect more romantic influences. He was an extremely prolific composer during his almost eight-one year lifetime. Unfortunately he never attained much in the way of fame. Never an innovator, he excelled as a truly fine craftsman with a genuine flair for melodic themes and impressive orchestral effects. From his vast list of works little seems to have survived. I consider his best-known surviving piece to be the "Russian Sailor's Dance" from his ballet The Red Poppy. One source has listed his, "Hymn for the Great City" (St. Petersburg ?) from his ballet The Bronze Horseman written late in his career as being his best known composition. The third composition of his that has retained some popularity and familiarity to this day is Il'ya Murometz.

That is the subtitle for his most ambitious composition, his third symphony. I am not certain if subtitle is correct; the work is often if not usually referred to by the name Il'ya Murmotez. Incidentally some of my resource books spell this work title as Ilia Mourmotez - each word close but not identical. This symphony (is it really a symphony?), well, it is not a symphonic poem as that is traditionally defined as having only one movement. Program symphony is probably the most accurate term to describe Gliere's Third Symphony. The program (story) that this symphony tells or describes is very similar to my favorite musical story, Grieg's famous Peer Gynt, which is definitely not a symphony.

Reinhold Gliere's Third Symphony is composed of the traditional four movements. It is scored for an extremely large orchestra. This fact may have been at least partly responsible for the interest in performing this work over the years by both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. The first movement has two titles, reflecting two parts of the program (story) all of which is somewhat confusing if not exactly complicated. The liner notes mention the second movement as being almost Wagner-like. Well, maybe, but in any event I found it to be immediately appealing and after repeated listenings, still my favorite. The scherzo is partly brilliant showpiece music portraying a great royal feast. The fourth movement, like the first, has two parts and titles. It does seem to eventually build to a crescendo like a good symphony should, however it then continues to an interesting but kind of simpering end. My traditional background has trouble accepting that. Only Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, (The Pathetique) seems "right" to me ending in a like manner.

Summary, sound and recommendation: Repeated listening sessions have slightly increased my appreciation of this music but now I'm not certain the second movement is my favorite. The overall sound level seems a bit lower than usual for Telarc - that simply means you need set your volume control a couple of notches higher than usual. Don't overdo it though as the beginning of the symphony is relatively quiet lyrical music. The recording seems to lack a bit of Telarc's usual impact and my guess is that the recording site, at Watford Town Hall (England) plus different recording engineers and different microphone placement are the reasons. In two-channel stereo playback mode the overall tonal balance is not quite as rich or full sounding as Telarc's norm. The pleasing effect is as listening from a mid-hall seat about a dozen rows further back than usual for Telarc. My recommendation for this project is relatively limited. It is not for a newcomer to classical music. It is aimed squarely at classical music lovers looking for something new and not knowing exactly what to expect. I am not familiar with any competing version I could recommend over this one. As far as I am concerned, the conducting and orchestral response is just fine.












































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