Glière’s ‘Ilya Muromets’ Symphony has “shimmered on my horizon” for quite a while, writes JoAnn Falletta. Probably that is the case for most of us. It is music rarely encountered in the concert-hall (it took nearly 100 years to reach the BBC Proms, for example, when Vassily Sinaisky conducted it there in 2007) but has had its share of recordings – in the west from such as Eugene Ormandy, Leon Botstein, Harold Farberman, Leopold Stokowski (his is heavily cut though) and Sir Edward Downes, the latter’s Chandos version maybe the most recommendable until now.
This may not be the most thematically rich of symphonies, and over a 70- to 80-minute timescale (Farberman is even longer than that, nearly 90), there can be passages of thinness and repetition. If Glière’s ambition and orchestral extravagance sometimes outstrips his inventiveness, this is also music that is heavy on atmosphere and description – cinematic even. In a dedicated performance, such as this from Buffalo, there is though much to relish in terms of drama and colour, and also much imaginative scoring.
Reinhold Moritsevich Glière (1875-1956) completed his Third and final Symphony in 1911, based on a Slav hero who was around between the tenth and twelfth centuries (accounts differ). In Falletta’s conducting the listener becomes interested immediately in the music’s brooding desolation, atmospheric horn-calls, much striving, and a striking if solemn chorale for brass. Whether portraying wandering minstrels, a brigand, the mighty sun, or heroism and petrification (those are the four movements’ descriptions), Glière used his pen with vivid intent. The second movement is full of mysteries and allure (and seems to anticipate Prokofiev’s marvellous Third Symphony, based on his opera The Fiery Angel, in this regard) and Glière also knew how to create ‘forest murmurs’ (birdsong abounds).
The short Borodin-like scherzo (the other movements all hover around the 20-minute mark) is in some respects the most immediately appealing, although this too indulges blood, guts and thunder a little too easily, which may be the main weakness of the work as a whole, although the finale certainly works up a fine old spectacle and is rather moving come the end ... you just have to give in and succumb to music that is scenic, thrilling and creates a vast storyboard.
And that is certainly the case with this impressive ‘labour of love’ performance, capable of blowing your socks off, and which says much about the Buffalo/Falletta partnership. It has been handsomely captured by Tim Handley’s excellent engineering and production.