Sergey Mikhaylovich LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in e-flat minor, Op. 4 (1890) [22:16]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E, Op. 38 (1909) [19:27]
Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 28 (1907) [16:35]
Shorena Tsintsabadze (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow, 2-6 March 2008.
NAXOS 8.570783 [58:32]

Sergey Lyapunov was the son of a mathematician-astronomer father and a musician mother. His early studies were with her, until his fatherís 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.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Ian Lace

Hearty and robust performances of music that is at times most interesting and at others somewhat mechanical. The second concerto makes the whole effort worthwhile.