Prior to this present release, the only works by Sergei Lyapunov
that I had heard were the piano pieces recorded on Olympia by Anthony
Goldstone (OCD 688). There was enough interesting music on this CD to
make me wish that it were possible to hear a more ambitious work - especially
a piano concerto.
Here Chandos have done enthusiasts of Russian music
proud offering up two major compositions and one make-weight.
Sergei Lyapunov was born in 1859 in Yarolsavi, a town
to the north-east of Moscow. There is little information available on
his early career. However in 1878 he was invited by Nicolai Rubinstein
to study at the Moscow Conservatory. Here Lyapunov was noted as a brilliant
student: amongst his teachers was Tchaikovsky. After completing his
studies in Moscow he moved to St Petersburg where he developed a friendship
with Balakirev who at that time was the main force in the Russian Nationalist
Lyapunov held a number of musical posts in that city
and also promoted himself as a concert pianist and conductor. Amongst
this industry he found time to compose two symphonies, a violin concerto,
two piano concerti and much solo piano music. He is difficult to place
into a stylistic mould; however influences from Chopin, Liszt and Balakirev
We can dispose of the Polonaise first.
It was composed in 1902 when the composer was 43 years old. It is a
short piece lasting for only seven minutes. It is quite light; not easily
compared with anything else, although I did mentally liken it to certain
'British Light Music' masterpieces. What it may lack in weight it certainly
makes up for in its musical quality. Structurally it is quite straightforward
being in ternary form. However to my mind it is the orchestration that
makes this piece. It is one of those works that would serve as
either a fine encore or perhaps a concert curtain-raiser.
The piano concerto is my favourite form, so it was
with considerable excitement that I listened to Lyapunov’s Piano
Concerto (Op.38 in E major). To me there is something exciting about
discovering a piece of music for the very first time; especially if
it a romantic piano concerto with all the trappings and trimmings that
one would expect. It is extra nice when the work lives up to its imagined
There is very little written about the composer and
his works. The Internet refused to reveal any further secrets, so I
have to rely on David Brown's programme notes for any facts and figures
on this work.
First of all, it is easy to see that the work uses
Liszt's Second Concerto as a model not that it is a copy or even
a pastiche of that work. Yet somehow, perhaps the later composer seems
to lean quite heavily on the master's work. For one thing the structure
is the same - single movement. Yet one wonders how any writer for the
piano could have failed to come under the spell of the Hungarian composer
- especially when he is compelled to create romantic music.
Now for a confession. Much as I admire Franz Liszt's
work, there is something about Lyapunov's that makes me like it slightly
better! Somehow it seems to be an epitome of the 'Romantic Piano Concerto.'
It has all the feel of an earlier Warsaw Concerto. It is almost
as if the composer has created a piece that fulfils all the aspirations
of those people, who, like myself are always looking out for another
Rach 2 or even Stanford 2 - music to fall back into and enjoy, simply
because it is unabashedly and unashamedly romantic. Of course, when
and where one listens to a piece of music can influence how one feels
and perhaps I was just feeling that little bit more up to being ravished
by Lyapunov's sound. Maybe Monday last (6 May 2002) was not the right
day for me to be reviewing this music objectively. Who knows?
The playing by Howard Shelley brings to these pages
a magical quality. Already famed for his cycle of Rachmaninov he has
added a valuable work to his repertoire.
In summary, this is a fine example of the genre - well
worth investigating - especially to those listeners who have been avidly
collecting the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series!
The composer's Symphony is well worth listening
to. In spite of the programme notes writer's confession that a number
of years ago he thought that it was hardly worth reviving.
This is my first hearing of this work. Perhaps we may
agree that it is not a work of genius. However it is an extremely attractive
work. The orchestration is masterly and the balance of the parts declares
the touch of a master. Once again the composer's predecessors are apparent.
Perhaps Lyapunov had to use models to spur his creative spirit. Certainly
the present symphony owes much to Borodin's 2nd Symphony.
The first movement epitomises much of Lyapunov's craft
and skill in composing: good development, varied orchestration and contrast.
For an opening movement it is perhaps a little lightweight in places.
Yet the overall impact is of unity of purpose and design. This is attractive
and interesting music.
Perhaps the slow movement is the heart of this work.
Two excellent themes are given in the opening pages and are developed
with great skill. This is lovely stuff, which deserves to be better
known. There is even a touch of Elgarian expansiveness about one of
these themes. It results in a well constructed, and quite moving essay.
The third movement, a scherzo has a 'moto perpetuo'
quality to it, and as David Brown rightly suggests is redolent of the
ballet stage. Once again the orchestration and thematic development
adds much to what on the face of it could be unpromising material. It
is one of those miniatures that one wishes would never end. I was reminded
of parts of Khachaturian's 'Masquerade Suite'.
The finale is full of life and vigour. There is great
contrast in this movement with some harking back to earlier moments
in the symphony. However, there is always an underlying, if unstated,
energy. The work ends in a blaze of brassy glory.
There is no doubt that this is a well-produced disc.
The playing is well nigh perfect. Howard Shelley presents the Piano
Concerto in all its glory. The Symphony is particularly attractive;
the sound quality being excellent. The programme notes could have been
a little bit more fulsome, but perhaps there is so little scholarship
Altogether a fine addition to the catalogue and well