Sergey Lyapunov was the son of a mathematician-astronomer father
and a musician mother. His early studies were with her, until
his father’s death caused the family to move to Nizhny-Novgorod,
where he began study in the local branch of the Russian Musical
Society in 1873. He would later attend the Moscow Conservatory
where he studied with Taneyev, and for a brief time Tchaikovsky.
He would later move to St. Petersburg, where he became a disciple
of Mily Balakirev, the self-ordained leader of the Russian nationalist
group of composers. This association was to have a profound
effect on the young composer, keeping him away from a rival
circle led by Belyayev, and causing his output to be more backward
looking than forward.
The three works presented here for piano and orchestra owe a
sizable debt to Franz Liszt, with their single movement forms,
boisterous and virtuosic solo writing and thick orchestrations
including percussion instruments like the triangle, not commonly
found in concerto accompaniments before Liszt.
The first concerto is an early work, composed in 1890 when Lyapunov
was thirty-one years old. It opens with a long orchestral introduction
which lays out all of the prevalent themes before the entrance
of the soloist. The piano part is marked by flashy upward arpeggio
figures and long stretches of thundering octaves which frankly,
wear upon the ear after a while. The work is not a total failure
by any means, but is definitely not a masterpiece either.
The second concerto fares better, and as Keith Anderson comments
in his concise and informative program note, is worthy of a
place in the canon of romantic piano concertos. Also in one
movement, there is much more maturity of thought both in the
harmonic language and in some of the sweeping and genuinely
beautiful melodies. Virtuosity is abundant, yes, but in this
case, it serves the music far better than the somewhat empty
flashiness of the first concerto.
In 1893, Lyapunov, along with Balakirev and Lyadov was commissioned
to collect folk songs in the Vologda, Vyatka and Kostroma regions
of Russia. This effort resulted in the writing down of almost
three hundred native songs, with Lyapunov providing accompaniments
to several of the tunes. This surely influenced his 1907 Rhapsody
on Ukrainian themes. A work that is again heavily indebted to
Franz Liszt, it was first performed in 1909 with the composer
as soloist, Balakirev as conductor and Ferruccio Busoni as dedicatee.
It is in the form of a rondo and is full of the kind of virtuosic
flurry that one would find in any work of Liszt.
Shorena Tsintsabadze is fairly new to the concert world and
was still pursuing post-graduate music studies in 2010. Despite
her youth, she is a fully competent soloist with ample technique,
a rich warm tone and quite capable of the finger-busting demands
of this flashy music. Her sound is never overbearing, but it
is amply robust and never clangy and bangy in a Lang Lang sort
of manner. Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
provide a rich and balanced accompaniment. Tempo choices are
to be admired as Maestro Yablonsky never lets the music get
bogged down, a problem that could easily come about due to the
thickness of the orchestrations and the broad sweeping qualities
of the tunes.
In short, this is music worth a listen or two, and fans of buxom
Russian romanticism will find much to wallow in. The second
concerto makes this program worth the price of admission.
see also review by Ian