Monday, January 19, 2009

Gliere, artist of the people

In spite of his Frenchified name, there is nothing French about Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956), a Ukrainian/Soviet composer of German-Polish descent. His late romantic idiom and tendency to find inspiration in Russian history was much more to the taste of the ruling Soviets than say Shostakovich' experiments with modernisms. As a result he was much appreciated in his home country and was appointed artist of the people by four republics. Although his style may sound somewhat old-fashioned for its time, it is well-crafted and in the end awarding music. For me the best of his work is his third (and final) symphony, which he named Ilya Muromets. This programmatic symphony, with a running time of almost 80 minutes, is based on the life of a Russian folk hero, and is so vivid in its tonal language that one might mistake it for a film score. In fact, I think this symphony may have been one of the influences on Howard Shore's scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although I do not own the Naxos CD (I bought the Chandos version instead), it gets good reviews, and serves as a great introduction for this composer.