It is ironic but nevertheless true that Liadov's chief
claim to fame is for music he did not write. He was commissioned in
1910 by Sergei Diaghilev, to compose the score of a new ballet for the
glittering Paris season of the Ballets Russes, based on the Russian
fairy-tale, The Firebird. When he failed to deliver, Liadov opened the
way for a younger composer, Igor Stravinsky, whose career was launched
in spectacular fashion.
Liadov was a particularly gifted musician, however;
and as a composer, he created music of beautiful refinement and great
sophistication. If his reputation for idleness cannot be denied - it
was for this reason, as a young man, that he was expelled from Rimsky-Korsakov's
composition classes - he did still leave a significant body of work.
There were more than sixty published compositions, in fact, many of
which remain in the repertory today.
This Naxos reissue (from a Marco Polo disc available
during the 1980s) is the more welcome for allowing a proper assessment
of Liadov's achievement. For the featured repertoire covers a wide range
of music, particularly in those exotic orchestral scores which show
the composer at his best. While it is true that Liadov was most successful
as a miniaturist, we should also remember that an orchestral piece lasting
six or seven minutes - as most of these do - is not all that miniature.
After all, that is the same length as many a symphonic movement.
The music collected here is attractive, even delightful,
with inventive material delivered with a sophisticated and colourful
orchestral palette. The young Liadov may have fallen foul of Rimsky-Korsakov,
but the evidence suggests that the older composer had learned from the
The programme gets off to a sparkling start with the
rhythmically appealing portrait of the witch Baba Yaga, the one featured
by Mussorgsky in Pictures at an Exhibition. The subtle textures and
instrumental combinations enhance the pointed inventiveness of the rhythmic
stresses which drive this piece. Gunzenhauser and the Slovak Philharmonic
set their stall in this performance, which responds attractively to
There is a more noble side to Liadov, however, as revealed
in the two Polonaises. The tempi and phrasing bring out this nobility
with excellent effect. Perhaps the most exotic score in this collection
is The Enchanted Lake, and a beautiful evocation it is. Like the equally
appealing Kikimora it was conceived for an operatic project, Zoryushka,
which was eventually abandoned. Another abandoned project, Iz Apoklipsisa
(From the Apocalypse) came later in Liadov's life; it is represented
here in a substantial fragment of nearly ten minutes of music.
The recorded sound is adequate rather than vivid, which
is a pity. The climaxes do not glow in the manner Liadov surely intended;
likewise the instrumental colours are less vibrant than they might have
been. So for all its attractions this is not a definitive version of
the music. Keith Anderson provides some useful background details in
his insert notes, while the performances themselves are committed and
generally well characterised.