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Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Works for Piano - Volume 2 
Novelette, Op. 18 [7:43]*
Barcarolle, Op. 46 [8:28]
Humoreske, Op. 34 [5:52]*
Three Pieces, Op. 1 [12:12]
Seven Preludes, Op. 6 [11:28]
Chant du Crépuscule, Op. 22 [5:54]*
Variations and Fugue on a Russian Theme, Op. 49 [11:26]
Fêtes de Noël, Op. 41 [4:55]
Florian Noack (piano)
rec. 21-23 December 2015, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal
Premiere recording*

My acquaintance with the piano music of Sergei Lyapunov has, until recently, been confined to the recording of the Transcendental Études by Konstantin Scherbakov on Marco Polo 8.223491. Then, in the space of a month, Louis Kentner’s 1949 recording of the Études came along (review), followed by this latest disc from Ars Produktion in Florian Noack’s Lyapunov series. The more I listen to the piano music of this composer, the more I fail to comprehend its unjust neglect. For me it’s an amalgam of the Russian nationalism of his mentor Balakirev and the virtuosity of Liszt. Undoubtedly much of it is technically challenging, yet its intense lyricism and rhapsodic narrative is positively compelling.

Three of the pieces here are receiving their premiere recording. Lyapunov purloined Schumann’s title Novelette for his Op. 18, closely following the structure of the second of the older composer’s Op. 21 set of eight. Clearly Schumann’s influence lurks in the background, but the piece also has a strong Russian accent. It’s characterized by unbridled virtuosity, Noack injecting plenty of energy and power into his bold rendition. The Humoresque Op. 34 truly lives up to its name. Frolicsome, humorous and even capricious, its pointed staccatos invest it with a mischievous quality. The sombre and plaintive disposition of Chant du Crépuscule, Op. 22 is Russian through and through.

Dreamy and reflective aptly sums up the Barcarolle, Op. 46. The Three Pieces, Op. 1 consist of an Étude, an Intermezzo and a Valse. The Étude, my favourite, is beguiling, and Noack’s incandescent playing of it is seductive. His rhythmic buoyancy in the Valse is also a convincing and winning element. The Seven Preludes, Op. 6, despite their brevity, encompass a wide emotional range. They should be played as a set due to the tonal relationship of each being linked by a pattern of descending thirds. No. 3 is quite bleak and gloomy, whilst No. 5 effuses geniality and charm, the pianist’s diaphanous finger-work glistening and evoking sunshine. No. 7 ends the cycle with an energetic romp to the finishing line. With the four Fêtes de Noël, Op. 41 you’re in for a treat. They capture the wide-eyed innocence and wonder of Christmas. Noack relishes the lyricism of this surfeit of delights, his sensitive pedalling painting these appealing miniatures in varied pastel shades. The Variations and Fugue on a Russian folk theme Op. 49 I didn’t enjoy so much. As a work I find it a little dry and academic.

This generously filled disc comes in top of the range sound. I’m very taken by the piano, which has been expertly voiced. Its rich, resonant tone is complemented by a warm and sympathetic acoustic. Noack clearly has an affinity with this music and is to be lauded for championing these rarely aired scores. This is the second volume of Lyapunov’s piano music he has recorded; the first included the Valse-Impromptus, Mazurkas, a Tarantella and a Valse Pensive. We are told that his intentions are to record the composer’s complete piano oeuvre. I can’t wait for the Transcendental Études.

Stephen Greenbank



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