The program of this Brilliant Classics CD pulls neatly together five rarely recorded early chamber works by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857). These are early works, all composed before Glinka had reached his thirtieth birthday. The earliest one, of which we have a sample for you to hear, is from 1822, when the composer was only eighteen years old. The performances come from the Bolshoi Theatre Soloists, a group made up of principal players of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, lead by Alexander Lazarev.
Before Russia had established it’s own musical identity, Russian composers looked to central Europe – Italy, France, and especially Germany – for inspiration. In these early Glinka chamber works, we can hear this influence from Viennese, Italian and German early romantic composers. Glinka’s own landmark A Life for the Tsar and his subsequent nationalistic opera Russlan and Ludmilla, two works that put Russian music on the map and inspired a generation of composers that included Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, had not yet been written. These Glinka compositions come from an interesting time when Russia’s musical identity was soon to blossom.
The sample provided with this recommendation is the opening five minutes or so of the Divertimento on Themes from Bellini’s La sonnambula which is scored for harp, piano, bassoon, horn, viola, cello and double bass. Elegant, graceful, and subtlety evocative of the bel canto spirit, by listening to it you can glean a pretty accurate impression of what this Brilliant Classics CD has to offer.
The first Russian composer to gain real national recognition within his own country, and often regarded as ‘the father of Russian music’, Mikhail Glinka is best known for his rousing operas A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Ludmila. Growing up amid a family of landed gentry, however — a setting in which domestic music-making was a much-respected occupation — much of his early work was of a very different nature, namely chamber music intended for performance in more modest settings. It is this lesser-known and equally compelling part of the composer’s output that is explored here.
Nevertheless, the pieces in this collection span a considerable stretch of Glinka’s life. They range from the Variations on a Theme by Mozart, written when the composer was just eighteen and already demonstrating the skill with which he would repeatedly and creatively re-work the musical motifs of others’ works; via the Viola Sonata, an unfinished and yet unintentionally rich contribution to the scant repertory of a beautiful instrument, later completed by violist Vadim Borisovsky; to the Serenade on Themes from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, an intriguing and unusual arrangement for a selection of deep-timbred instruments that nonetheless succeeds in bringing out the individual melodic voice of each one.
This varied selection is performed by an accomplished and acclaimed ensemble, the Bolshoi Theatre Soloists, each of whom leads their specific section of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. They are conducted by Alexander Lazarev, who has been their principal conductor for 25 years. The Bolshoi Theatre Soloists have toured throughout Europe and the USA.
Bolshoi Theatre Soloists
Natalia Shameyeva, harp; Vera Chasovennaya & Anna Litvinenko, piano; Yuri Rudometkin, bassoon; Vasily Tarasov, horn; Igor Boguslavsky, viola; Dmitry Miller, cello; Renat Ibraghimov, double bass
The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra has a long and distinguished history dating back to its origins in 1776 as an ensemble of 13 musicians who accompanied singers in the first permanent theatrical troupe in Moscow.
Mikhail Glinka, composer
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804 – 1857), was the first Russian composer to gain wide recognition within his own country, and is often regarded as the father of Russian classical music. Glinka’s compositions were an important influence on future Russian composers, notably the members of The Five, who took Glinka’s lead and produced a distinctive Russian style of music.