Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859 - 1924)
Russian Piano Music Series - Volume 4
Piano Sonata in F minor Op.27 (1906-8) [24:53]
Barcarolle in G sharp minor Op.46 (1911) [8:15]
Variations on a Georgian Theme Op.60 (1914-15) [12:20]
Fêtes de Noël (1910) [15:13]
Nocturne in D flat major Op.8 (1898) [6:57]
Mazurka No.8 in G minor Op.36 (1909) [4:22]
Anthony Goldstone (piano)
rec. St. John the Baptist Church, Alkborough, England. 2000
DIVINE ART DDA25084 [72:36]

Having recently enjoyed one of the other releases in this series performed by Anthony Goldstone I was particularly pleased to receive this disc to review. All of the good opinions of the other CD - Glière’s piano music - are repeated if not reinforced here; this is an excellent disc and one that should not be missed by lovers of Russian romantic solo piano repertoire. This is not its first incarnation - the playright is from 2000 and this exact programme was released on now-defunct Olympia. Much as I enjoy Glière I would have to say that I think the music here by Lyapunov is superior. As a symphonic composer he is one of the late Russian romantics whose music has not inspired me as much as others. On the strength of the current CD I am going to revisit my old Svetlanov/Melodiya recordings and see how they sound now.

As before Anthony Goldstone proves to be a superb guide to this unfamiliar repertoire. He has the full measure of it musically as well as technically. What I particularly admire is the way he gauges his performance to fit the implicit scale of the work under his fingers. So the heroic romantic Sonata in F minor Op.27 that opens the programme is played with virtuosic grandeur and a rich resonant tone but the delightful Fêtes de Noël are given the light and affectionate touch they deserve. Goldstone provides also an illuminating and enthusiastic liner note - a model of its kind, add an excellent recording and you will understand my enthusiasm.

Lyapunov is another of those composers whose life straddled the extraordinary events of the Russian Revolution. Musically though his work belongs to the end of the 19th Century and for all the important teaching posts he held in St. Petersburg he was naturally conservative. What is clear though from this programme is that he forged for himself a distinct personal style which is a subtle amalgam of influences ranging from Chopin to Liszt but also absorbing Russian Orthodox chant and folk music. All of these can be heard in the aforementioned sonata written between 1906-8. Interestingly the dedication is to Karl Klindworth whose extraordinary transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini I reviewed on this site last year. Klindworth was one of Lyapunov’s teachers and in turn a pupil of Liszt. So it should not be wholly surprising that the model is the Liszt Sonata in B minor and its revolutionary four-movements-in-one form. But this is no slavish imitation - in some ways Lyapunov is more subtle than Liszt in his melodic transformations that gives the work its structural unity. Goldstone’s analysis of the work in the liner is as lucid and intelligent as his performance of the notes. I’m not sure if it because of the more muscular style of the actual music but the recording here sounds a little richer and fuller than that which was achieved in the same venue two years later for the Glière recital. The sonata opens in stormy and dramatic mood which is balanced by a beautiful long-breathed second subject. Goldstone has exactly the right feel for the natural ebb and flow this music requires. I love the impetuous virtuosic way he allows the music to push on or linger lovingly yet all without sounding arch or self-conscious. His ability to balance the inner voices is exemplary too - this is richly complex music which could descend into chaos all too easily in lesser hands. An interesting comparison can be made with Bax’s Piano Sonata No.1 which was written only some 2 years later and was influenced both by the Liszt and more significantly an extended visit to Russia. Side by side the Lyapunov does sound more reactionary than the Bax - which is not the most modern piano work circa 1910 by a long way itself! - but does that really matter more than 100 years after the event?, not a jot in my book. Try dipping into the Lyapunov sonata just as the “2nd” movement/section starts [track 2] for a marvelous example of the composer’s gently passionate lyrical gift and how well this is molded by Goldstone. The way this theme transforms into something more liturgical is beautifully handled by both composer and pianist - it does achieve the aural sleight-of-hand equivalent of happening before you, the listener, was aware what was going on. Goldstone paces the numerous climaxes in the work superbly too. It would be all too easy to allow this style of music to ‘gush’ but again Goldstone’s balance between fluency and flamboyance is perfectly achieved. Again the dissolve into the richly figured return of earlier lyrical material is brilliantly managed by one and all. The final peroration is glorious - positively cinematic in its heroic grandeur, to be suddenly replaced by a gentler chorale-like prayer which rises up through the keyboard as it fades away with a final gruff paragraph ending the work in quiet reflection. This is an instantly appealing work which would be enjoyed by anyone with a penchant for big-boned piano repertoire. I was having a quick browse to see if there was much competition in the catalogue for the music recorded here. I see there was (is?) a Marco Polo disc which includes the Sonata and the Variations on a Georgian Theme Op.60. Not having heard it I cannot make a comparison BUT I do see the timing of the sonata on that disc is a good 7:00 minutes longer than the version here which is a staggering difference in a 25 minute work. I can’t imagine for a second Goldstone has cut a bar and certainly does not sound at all rushed which leaves ones speculating about the other performance. The only other competition is from a disc on Dynamic which includes the Fêtes de Noël. This is performed by Marco Rapetti whose recital of Borodin’s piano music I reviewed recently which I found suffered from gross distortions to the pulse and shape of the music. Exactly the kind of disfigurement Goldstone avoids here.

Although the sonata is the stand-out work here it represents just under 1/3 of the disc and all of the other music here is of considerable worth as well. The Barcarolle in G sharp minor Op.46 is the composer’s only attempt in this form. It is by turns languorous and sensual - Goldstone points out that Lyapunov’s use of a flattened 2nd note in the scale adds some distinctly oriental spice to proceedings but ultimately this is elegant rather than erotic. The Variations on a Georgian Theme Op.60 date from 1914-15 and resolutely ignores the passing years and evolving musical trends let alone the political turmoil at home and abroad. Putting that to one side this is another instantly appealing work. The theme is oriental in the way that gives more than a nod to Borodin in Polovtsian mode. Again, Goldstone’s control and ability to bring together the widely divergent variations into a coherent whole is superb as is the clarity of his articulation and subtle pedaling [track 7 shows this to great effect]. These are very pictorial short variations - you can imagine them being given descriptive titles, this is hugely enjoyable vibrant unpretentious music - by the end it sounds as though the piano has just started slipping out of tune!

Aside from the Sonata the piece I enjoyed most on the disc were the four Fêtes de Noël. Although far from simple to play I am sure they capture an innocent wonder through an amalgam of Orthodox melodies, folk melodies and an evocation of the first Christmas. So in Nuit de Noël the shepherd’s pipes call from near and far (beautifully evoked by Goldstone’s sensitive touch), a pastoral interludes leads to an Orthodox hymn announcing the Christmas message and an exultant return of the pipe melody. The Cortège des mages is a brisk no -nonsense affair, the tempo dictated by the need to allow the choral-like counter melody to speak at a reasonable speed. The Russian influence is again clear with the appearance of pealing festive bells. The final two movements were written bringing the Christmas story to the 1910 present. In Chanteurs des Noëls Lyapunov skillfully creates the effect of singers approaching from the distance building to another powerful climax. As Goldstone puts it so neatly in the liner the last movement, Chant de Noël is in “skittish holiday mood” with a neatly understated throwaway ending. I find this work utterly charming. The disc is completed with a beautifully lyrical Nocturne - Lyapunov’s only composition given that title - and his 8th and last Mazurka. These simply underline and reiterate the quality of what has gone before and provide a very fitting close to a deeply satisfying programme.

This is a disc in which all those involved can take great pride. Revelatory repertoire superbly performed, recorded and beautifully presented.

Nick Barnard

Divine Art’s Russian Piano Music Series
Vol 1 Shostakovich and Comrades DDA25080
Vol 2 Rebikov DDA25081
Vol 3 Glière DDA25083
Vol 4 Lyapunov DDA 25084
Vol 5 Arensky DDA25085