Royal Scottish National Orchestra / José Serebrier

Glazunov: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 3, & 9

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It's hard to discern what meaning the symphonies of Alexander Glazunov might have for conductor José Serebrier in these performances with the Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra. In this two-disc set of the first three symphonies, plus the opening movement of the unfinished ninth, Serebrier's readings are not incapable or even ungainly, but they can most charitably be called generic. Serebrier obviously knows his way around the scores, and the Scottish musicians are able to follow him with no signs of stress or strain. But these are readings with no sense of identity, and they reveal little of the composer's individuality. The Second's brass-coated motto theme sounds like it could be by Borodin or Balakirev, the First's string-soaked Adagio by Tchaikovsky or Arensky, and the Third's wind-driven Scherzo by Kalinnikov or Lyadov. The unfinished Ninth's one and only movement is so wanting in character that it would be hard to identify even by its country of origin. It could be argued that it is Glazunov's symphonies and not Serebrier's performances that are without identity. But recordings by dedicated conductors like Svetlanov and Rozhdestvensky show what can be done with these works, revealing them to be among the strongest and most satisfying symphonic works of their time and place; big, heroic works with a sureness of touch; a mastery of form; and best of all, a sunny optimism otherwise conspicuously missing in Silver Age Russia. Serebrier's recordings, like Neeme Järvi's from 20 years earlier, merely fill space. Warner Classics' recorded sound has little clarity or impact.

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