Alexander Glazunov was a child prodigy whose first symphony was performed when he was only sixteen years old. When Borodin died suddenly in 1887, it was Glazunov who helped Rimsky-Korsakov to complete his opera, Prince Igor, and when Tchaikovsky died, nine days after the premiere of his Pathétique Symphony, many people saw Glazunov as his natural successor.
The height of Glazunov’s career roughly coincided with the period during which he composed his eight symphonies (1881-1906). He has been described as “certainly the most natural and spontaneous talent in 19th century Russia, fostered at first by Balakirev and then by Rimsky-Korsakov, who marvelled at his progress ‘not from day to day, but from hour to hour’.” Glazunov’s first two symphonies were filled with Nationalist gestures like those of Balakirev and Borodin but as he grew older, Glazunov studied composition more and his technical mastery allowed him to write in a more sophisticated, cultivated idiom. In his Third Symphony, dedicated to Tchaikovsky, he shows a conscious effort to ‘internationalise’ his music. The Fourth Symphony confirmed his position as the heir to Tchaikovsky. The Fifth Symphony, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895 with the composer conducting, successfully synthesises Nationalist tradition with sophisticated Western technique. A rich and imaginative work, it is filled with striking ideas presented with beautiful craftsmanship.
Glazunov did not write much for the voice and never attempted an opera but, as heir to Tchaikovsky, he was called upon by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg to follow up Tchaikovsky’s ballets such as Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. Glazunov’s first full-length ballet was Raymonda, written two years after the Fifth Symphony, and in 1900 he composed The Seasons, which is an extended one-act divertissement rather than a narrative ballet. Glazunov’s music, written to a scenario by the ballet master Petipa, shows a vivid imagination at the service of clear, danceable numbers. His illustrations of the seasons are drawn from mythology and possibly also from Renaissance painting, rather than depicting the Russian seasons specifically. The Seasons was an instantaneous hit and, although rarely danced anymore, became Glazunov’s best-known concert-hall piece.
José Serebrier, the Uruguayan-born composer and conductor, leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in this colourful, rhapsodic repertoire. Serebrier, who worked with the legendary conductors Leopold Stokowski at the American Symphony Orchestra and George Szell at the Cleveland Orchestra, has been hailed by the American press on his Carnegie Hall debut for the “great intensity, precision and clarity” which he brings to his music-making.