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Anatol LIADOV (1855–1914)

Variations on a Polish folk theme, op.51 (1901) [11:56]

Marionettes, op. 29 (1892) [5:08]

Three Pieces, op.11 (1886) [8:28]

Two Pieces, op.24 (1890) [6:19]

Three Pieces, op.57 (1900/1905) [5:17]

Little Waltz in G, op.26 (1891) [2:27]

Three Preludes, op.36 (1895) [2:55]

A Musical Snuffbox, op.32 [1:58]

Barcarolle in F sharp, op.44 (1898) [4:15]

Four Pieces, op.64 (1909/1910) [5:08]

Variations on a theme by Glinka, op.35 (1894) [16:08]

Stephen Coombs (piano)

rec. 6-7 May 1997, All Saints, East Finchley, London. DDD

reissue of Hyperion CDA 66986


Experience Classicsonline

Liadov is remembered as the lazy Russian composer – he was given the commission for a ballet but as he never got round to the laboursome task of actually writing it the commission passed to the young Igor Stravinsky, who created The Firebird, and, as they say, the rest is history. I
n 1870 he went to at the St Petersburg Conservatory to study piano and violin but quickly stopped his instrumental studies and moved on to counterpoint and fugue. Despite many, Mussorgsky included, thinking highly of his work as a composer he was expelled from the composition class of Rimsky-Korsakov for absenteeism, but was re-admited in 1878 to help him finish his graduation composition, a setting of the final scene from Schiller's Die Braut von Messina for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, op.28 (1878, published 1891). He subsequently taught at the St Petersburg Conservatory where his students included Prokofiev and the conductor Nikolai Malko, who wrote, "Lyadov's critical comments were always precise, clear, understandable, constructive, and brief .... And it was done indolently, without haste, sometimes seemingly disdainfully. He could suddenly stop in midword, take out a small scissors from his pocket and start doing something with his fingernail, while we all waited". 

As a composer, Liadov is probably best remembered these days as the composer of colourful and entertaining tone poems – Baba–Yaga, op.56 (1904), The Enchanted Lake, op.62 (1909), and Kikimora, op.63 (1909) as well as the orchestral Eight Russian Folk Songs, op.58 (1906) – all available on a very good Chandos CD, coupled with other works, given by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Vasily Sinaisky (CHAN 9911). But what of his other work? There’s no large-scale piece – in fact the two sets of variations on this disk are amongst his biggest pieces – no opera, no ballet (though not for want of trying), no concerto or symphony so his reputation rests entirely on a series of miniatures.

Liadov was said to be a fine pianist so it’s not unusual to find a fair amount of music for piano in his output (about 36 pieces) and what we have here is a fine sampling. The music ranges in style from salon music, to sub-Scriabin in the op.64 pieces. 

Marionettes, Little Waltz and the Musical Snuffbox are all real charmers – delicate sweetmeats for the home – and the Three Pieces, op.11 have much charm in their Chopinesque way, but the second, a toccata, might have proved somewhat difficult for the parlour pianists. 

By the time we reach the Two Pieces op.24, the harmonic language has matured, the textures have become slightly thicker, and, amazingly, there’s even an hint of impressionism – surely a piece of serendipity! The melodic material here is much more memorable, and this strain is continued into the Three Pieces, op.57, whereas the Three Preludes, op.36 are a backward step but fine examples of how to make an impression in the shortest possible timescale – the second is also quite a virtuoso piece. 

The Variations on a theme by Glinka, op.35 is the more conventional of the two sets of Variations presented here. It seems to straddle the salon and the concert hall in its language, but the use of the keyboard places it firmly in the latter place. The Variations on a Polish folk theme, op.51 is based on a mazurka and Liadov’s treatment of his theme is varied and satisfying. There’s a quicksilver scherzo which has a contrasting violent scherzo, and there’s several deeply felt slower variations. The finale starts with bell sounds and ends as an headlong race to the finish line. 

This is very enjoyable music and it’s hard to see why it’s never heard – at worst there’s ample encore material here. Until such time, we must be grateful to Stephen Coombs for lavishing such care on this disk and giving us a reminder of what has been lost in this corner of Russian music. One thing is certain – we must not be as lazy as Liadov when it comes to going out and buying this delightful disk for it’s well worth having.

Bob Briggs



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