> Sergei Lyapunov - Symphony No.1 [JF]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Symphony No.1 Op.12 (1897)
Piano Concerto No.2 Op.38 (1909)
Polonaise Op.16 (1902)
Howard Shelley (piano).
BBC Philharmonic conducted by Vassily Sinaisky
Studio 7 New Broadcasting House Manchester 26th -31st October 2000
CHANDOS CHAN 9808 [64.31]


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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 School.

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 are apparent.

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 reputation.

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 to utilise.

Altogether a fine addition to the catalogue and well worth exploring.

John France


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