BECAUSE VIVALDI'S cycle of violin concertos called The Four Seasons has become so inescapably popular in the last 30 years (recerded every Tuesday and Thursday, it would appear, and now in versions for koto ensemble and for flute, as well as the original), it is understandable that other musical treatments of the seasons tend to be overlooked or forgotten. Vivaldi's was by no means the first, nor was Haydn's valedictory oratorio the last: one of the most attractive is the score Glazunov composed in 1899 for a ballet in four scenes called The Seasons, surely the finest of that composer's major works. One must wonder why so attractive a score is never performed in our concert halls -- but it has not been neglected on records: the number of current stereo versions is brought to six with the release of a new Angel disc on which Soviet conductor Yevgeny Svetlanov leads the Philharmonia Orchestra in The Seasons and both of Glazunov's similarly appealing concert waltzes (S-37509, encoded for "SQ" quadraphonic playback).
This seems to be Svetlanov's first recording with a Western orchestra. He draws fine playing from the Philharmonia, but his interpretive ideas are anything but persuasive. The Seasons is subjected to a treatment in which tempos become slower, and phrasing fussier, as the work proceeds. Svetlanov does restore a small cut in the final section, made by every other conductor who has recorded the score (including, as I recall, Glazunov himself), but that proves to be no enticement: the decision to cut that rather ill-fitting little episode was surely one of the judicious professional touches that made this work the strong piece it is.
The two concert waltzes, with their nostalgic themes and sumptuous coloring, are perhaps even more delicious than The Seasons , but in Svetlanov's heavyhanded approach that becomes a well-kept secret. Forget about this record, but do not forget about this music: the same three titles are to be found on one of the last records made by Ernest Ansermet with his Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (London CS-6509), and here there are in abundance both the elegance and the vitality so lacking in the Svetlanov performances. Moreover, the 12-year-old recording has more brightness and presence than the new Angel. The value of the Svetlanov release really lies in its calling attention to its distinguished predecessor, one of the very finest of the remarkable Swiss conductor's many recordings.
Among the more recent composers to deal with the seasons was Darius Mihaud, whose own recording, as conductor, of his four seasonal concertions -- a cycle one might regard as Milhaud's Brandenburgs -- has just been marked for deletion (Philips 6504.111) Those who have not savored these engaging pieces would be well advised to pick up the disc while copies are still around.
At the same time, Angel has made up grandly for its poor showing in the Glazunov by bringing us a quite wonderful disc of two lesser-known Milhaud items, conducted by the authoritative Maurice Abravanel. On side one of S-37317 Abravanel conducts his Utah Symphony in Milhaud's haud's Symphonic Suite No. 2, Protee; on side two he leads the Utah Chamber Orchestra (a portion of the Utah Symphony, one imagines, renamed for recording purposes) in the ballet music Les Songes ("Dreams"). The former title has not been on records since the Camden reissue of the Monteux/San Francisco Symphony version was withdrawn, about 20 years ago; Les Songes has not been around for an even longer time -- since a fragment of the half-hour score was recorded by Milhaud himself in pre-war Paris on two ten-inch Columbia 78s.
It is astounding to read that such charming music as the Protee Suite touched off one of those Paris riots at its premiere in 1920, but the annals of music are filled with such happenings; it is more astounding to see how little circulation this colorful, extremely easy-to-listen-to music has had. Les Songes , even more brightly colored, is another of Milhaud's superior efforts; the two works in tandem constitute a very happy discovery, especially as presented here. Abravanel was probably as close to Milhaud as any conductor was; his fine feeling for the composer's style has been demonstrated before, and so has the quality of the orchestra he has built in Salt Lake City, but perhaps never quite so impressively as on this splendid disc.