> Anatol Liadov [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anatol LIADOV (1855-1914)
Intermezzo, Opus 8
Mazurka, Opus 19
Ballade, Opus 21b
Polonaise, Opus 49
Polonaise, Opus 55
Baba Yaga, Opus 56
The Enchanted Lake, Opus 56
Kikimore, Opus 63
The Apocalypse (fragment), Opus 66
Nänie, Opus 67
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Stephen Gunzenhauser
Rec May 1985, Concert Hall of the Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava
NAXOS 8.555242 [58.05]


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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 master.

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 the material.

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.

Terry Barfoot

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