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]

Having reviewed the Arensky and Balakirev concertos from Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic I was impatient to hear their Lyapunov. As with so many composers trapped in another’s shadow – in this case that of Balakirev – the mentor’s passing would pay artistic dividends. The three works on this disc precede Balakirev’s death in 1910 so one might expect a degree of imitation born of admiration and undue influence. Indeed, Lyapunov went on to completed his master’s Second Piano Concerto which, like his own, is also in the key of E.

Yablonsky’s pianist, Moscow-born Shorena Tsintsabadze, certainly makes the most of her opening flourishes. That comes after a slightly ragged orchestral introduction, but then the Russian Philharmonic’s playing does settle down after a while, the strings especially ardent. In the main the piano sound is perfectly acceptable, despite a bright edge to the extreme treble, most noticeable in the work’s many declamatory passages. As for the orchestra, there’s a brazen, somewhat overdriven quality to the tuttis that rather suits the all-or-nothing nature of this most extrovert concerto. That helter-skelter finale does push players and engineers to the limit though, earlier warmth and weight supplanted by fatiguing brightness. A pity, as this is an otherwise entertaining piece, enthusiastically presented.

Thank goodness for the soothing balm that is the introduction to the second concerto. This is altogether a less febrile work, and one soon registers a much wider range of orchestral colours. Tsintsabadze has a persuasive musical personality, and I really warmed to her playing in the work’s more inward moments. As for the Russian brass, they’re characteristically imprecise at times, but that bothers me much less than the piano’s tendency to jangle in the frequent climaxes, not to mention the ill-defined bass. Not so pronounced if you’re listening to a compressed MP3 on a packed rush-hour train, but much less desirable on a half-decent domestic stereo. As I mentioned in my Arensky review, this hard-working conductor and his forces seem to be on the musical equivalent of a fast-moving conveyor belt, a process that doesn’t always yield the most refined results.

That said, these concertos are worth exploring, but before you decide sample Hamish Milne’s versions of both – and Howard Shelley’s of the Second – on piano-friendly Hyperion. As for the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes it has a raw energy that is most arresting; what a shame the recording is equally so, notably in that riotous finale Despite the super-budget price tag Naxos can – and does – do better than this, so I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the curiosity value of these works outweighs their technical shortfalls. No such ambivalence about Keith Anderson’s admirably concise and informative liner-notes, though.

Very much a case of what might have been, I’m afraid. Caveat emptor.

Dan Morgan

Very much a case of what might have been, I’m afraid.