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Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Three Pieces Op.1 (1888) [12:30]
Two Mazurkas Op.9 (1898) [9:33]
Mazurka No.5 in B flat minor Op.21 (1903) [7:50]
Valse-Impromptu No.1 in D major Op.23 (1905) [4:11]
Valse-Impromptu No.2 in G flat major Op.29 (1908) [2:36]
Mazurka No.7 in G sharp minor Op.31 (1908) [7:50]
Scherzo in B flat minor Op.45 (1911) [10:05]
Sonatina in D flat major Op.65 (1917) [9:23]
Valse-Impromptu No.3 in E major Op.70 (1919) [5:22]
Margarita Glebov (piano)
rec. The Elsie and Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, Maryland, USA, 30 May, 17 October 2012, 15 March 2013

Given Toccata Classics’ normal preference for prospecting genius from the slagheap of obscurity, the presence of Sergei Lyapunov in their catalogue smacks positively of mainstream. Yet this is a typically excellent disc from this enterprising company and one that fits neatly into their continuing survey of Russian piano music.
I am not sure I can think of another Russian composer whose piano music impresses as much as this while his orchestral works leave me cold. Aside from the visionary and boundary-challenging Scriabin and the sheer genius of Rachmaninov I cannot think of another Romantic Russian composer who produced such a significant body of keyboard works. Pianist Margarita Glebov and musicologist Donald Manildi contribute a pair of very distinguished (English only) essays to the liner which delineate the quantity and quality of the music on offer here.
Glebov is a Russian-American pianist trained in the great tradition of the Russian virtuosi and this is reflected in both the sheer skill and evident sympathy of her playing. With over seventy piano works in the Lyapunov catalogue this single disc could only ever be a judicious selection but so it proves. The works are presented in chronological order - a simple but sensible choice. So, the recital opens with Lyapunov's Op.1 - a suite of three pieces comprising an Étude, an Intermezzo and a closing Valse. The composer was 29 when these were published so they cannot be considered apprentice works. Indeed, although a greater individual musical personality soon asserts itself these three works are notable for the sheer skill of their writing - "impeccable craftsmanship" is Manildi's phrase, and it is impossible not to agree.
I had forgotten, or indeed had not really made the link previously, that one of Lyapunov's relatively few orchestral works is Zelawzowa Wola - a Symphonic Poem in memory of Chopin. Chopin's (and Liszt's) shade is certainly a benevolent presence - Lyapunov's use of Mazurkas and Valse-Impromptus, Scherzi and Études as titles clearly shows this but it is neither an inhibiting nor an overly slavish homage. Perhaps more of a surprise, given his links via Balakirev to the Mighty Handful, and an expedition to collect (265) Russian folksongs is that Russian Nationalism is not more of an overt influence - the Thirty Russian Folksongs arranged as Op.10 are an exception rather than a rule. Perhaps this explains the relative lack of contemporary fame; these are finely wrought works but ones that lack the gaudy primary colours of a Mussorgsky or the heady-exoticism of Scriabin. Interestingly, his catalogue shows that he rarely collected together a set of works. The towering 12 Transcendental Studies Op.11 are the exception - and one that should be in any piano music lovers collection. Hence, aside from the Two Mazurkas Op.9 given here, the remaining six works so named that Lyapunov wrote were spread over a decade. Manildi sees Balakirev's influence here too - although I hear more of the salon than the countryside in these works. Glebov is particularly successful at finding the light and shade in these lyrical and subtle works. Interesting to read in the liner that despite a training steeped in the 19th century virtuoso tradition, Lyapunov shied away from the concert-hall – apparently he feared performing in public. Is it too much of a leap to hear in his music as presented here a reflection of that? Whilst no doubt virtuosic in the sense that it needs a superb technique to play as well as here this is not music that seeks to impress by display alone.
That being said the Scherzo in B flat minor Op.45 is a work of considerable power and panache. Glebov is very good at delineating the complex musical lines – this is a model of clear and sane playing. Perhaps a modicum of abandon is sacrificed in her clear-minded approach. This work dates from 1911 – the same year as Rachmaninov’s first set of Etudes-Tableaux. There seems to be a certain kinship with the contrapuntal complexity of the inner part-writing; certainly the Lyapunov work can stand comparison with the younger composer’s masterly set.
Another interesting comparison is to be made between the Lyapunov Sonatina Op.65 and his Sonata Op.27. This was part of an excellent disc I reviewed by Anthony Goldstone – indeed these two discs are wholly complementary with no overlap in repertoire. Where the Sonata is Romantic/Heroic in its approach the Sonatina is a model of clarity both in terms of form and content. This is a highlight of the disc; the music seems particularly well aligned to Glebov’s sensibility. Again, the influences extend well beyond the Nationalistic Russian. The premiere was given by the composer in Paris where he had settled in 1923. There is a distinct French/early Debussy flavour to the music – albeit viewed through a Russian exile’s eyes. The central Andante is quite delightful, much sparser in texture than much of the other music presented here. The toccata-like closing allegro has a near neo-classical economy. Again, Glebov is in her element – her playing articulate and controlled.
The recital closes with a delightful Valse-Impromptu. Here we find a real sense of a subtle encore to close an enjoyable programme. At the time of its composition – 1919 – the emotional heart of this piece belonged to a much earlier era, but there is a graceful charm and melodic beauty that locks this into the memory.
This is a highly successful recital which makes one hope for further volumes. The Op.1 pieces, the Scherzo, and the Sonatina are receiving their first recordings. The engineering is unfussy. Given the nature of the music there is no need for the widest or most dramatic of sound-stages. That being said the engineers have captured Glebov’s Steinway D piano with excellent natural presence. As mentioned, excellent liner-notes give real insight into both the life and music of this still too-little known composer. A wholly enjoyable disc.
Nick Barnard

Previous review: Steve Arloff