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Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Novelette in C Major, Op.18 [7:43]
Barcarolle in G Sharp Minor, Op.46 [8:28]
Humoreske in G Flat Major, Op.34 [5:52]
Three Pieces, Op.1 [12:12]
Seven Preludes, Op.6 [11:28]
Chant du crépuscule in B Flat Minor, 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. Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, December 2015

I recently heard volume 1 of this Florian Noack-ARS series via an audio streaming service and was very impressed. When given the chance to review volume 2, I decided this would be a great idea.

Lyapunov’s writing is extremely complex and sounds like a good mixture of Chopin and Liszt with the odd hint of Schumann. If you like these composers you will enjoy this music. I first heard of Lyapunov many years ago through his completion of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies. As is well known, Liszt wrote a cycle that tackled only twelve out of the 24 keys. Lyapunov decided to complete the set, with the final one being an “Elégie to the Memory of Franz Liszt”. I look forward to Noack’s recording of those amazing works.

The present CD contains several premiere recordings: specifically tracks 1, 3 and 14. We start with a bouncy and cheerful Novelette. As the notes say, this makes reference to Schumann’s Novelletten Op.21. The first section is full of semiquavers and is extremely virtuosic but all this stops briefly for the middle part, in F minor which starts simply enough before becoming more and more complex. There is a lovely yearning theme at about 4:00 which is another earworm. Once the F minor section is developed, there is a short lead in before a repetition of the opening music. This is followed by various permutations and combinations, ending with a final flourish sounding like a Chopin Etude 'gone wrong'. This is immaculately played and, difficulties notwithstanding, I do not understand why it hasn’t been recorded before.

The next track is a rather charming Barcarolle which is a world away from the happy virtuosity of the Novelette. That’s not to say that it’s easy to play because it clearly isn’t but there is a relaxed feel to it and the tune is mournful. At about four minutes in, some very Chopin-like figurations occur - the inspiration is clearly Chopin’s Barcarolle. The piece works itself into a frenzy before quietening and ending with arabesques similar to those with which it began.

The three pieces published as Lyapunov’s Op.1 are all very much in the Chopin style – especially the first which is subtitled Etude. These have been fairly recently recorded by Toccata Classics (review review) and there is little difference between the timings of Margarita Glebov and Florian Noack. The music in the first of the three shares some similarities to Chopin’s Op.10 no. 5 (Black Keys) etude - which is pointed out in the notes; I totally agree. The second is full of pounding octaves and lots of complex writing with a disconcertingly strange quiet ending which I find very effective. The last of the set is a smiley little waltz, another charmer, full of lovely - and difficult - figurations in the section towards the end. I am reminded slightly of Liszt’s “Valse Mélancolique” (S.210) in the slower and much gentler conclusion.

Next follow the Six Preludes, Op.6 dating from 1895. All of these are short, lasting less than 2:30 here. They sound like supercharged versions of Chopin’s Op.28 Preludes. The first is a powerful march with impressive flourishes in the right hand and some interesting counter-melodies in the left. The second is a very rapid little ‘vivace’ but unlike some of the other music on this disc, it starts quietly with a gradually built crescendo in the middle and slowly winds down, getting quieter toward the end. The third seems to inhabit the same sort of sound-world as Chopin’s Op.28 no.2 in A minor: a piece subtitled by Hans von Bülow as “Presentiment of Death”. There is one short outburst at about 1:50 before a quiet chordal ending. The fourth of the set is a jolly little ‘Allegro giocoso’ and is really rather wonderful. This is followed by another Allegro, this time ‘grazioso’ and is much smoother. There is some excellent legato playing here and the ending is fantastically played. The penultimate prelude is an ‘Andantino’ and is probably the slowest piece on the disc. This contains some interesting writing for the left hand and has a meandering quality. Lastly there's a rapid ‘Animato assai’, full of complex leaps and difficult passagework for both fingers. The ending is a headlong plunge of octaves which really makes you sit up and take notice. All these pieces are immaculately played, helped by the excellent acoustic and recording.

The Chant du crépuscule in B Flat Minor had not been recorded before. It has a melancholic beginning before the main theme starts at about 00:50. The main theme is a yearning, Russian-sounding tune with some interesting key changes which gradually leads into a more cheerful continuation about 3:00. There are some complicated trills from here onwards before the return of that Russian mood in the last third of the piece. I really like this work and it is one I shall return to often.

Next follows the longest single work on this disc: the Variations and Fugue on a Russian Theme, published as Op.49 and therefore the latest piece here. As the notes point out, by this time the composer had abandoned his pursuit of pure virtuosity and was adopting increasingly complex harmonic structures; not that this music is easy. The main theme is followed by several variations, most noticeable of which are those that occur from about 3:30. There is some jaw-dropping playing here with huge leaps and trills. The following hushed variation is more like a hymn than anything else. Again, Chopin is the main influence here but with a veneer of Liszt. There is a lovely variation at 5:40 with the left hand taking the melody and the right playing descending chords in a very detached way. The variations are distinct, easy to pick out and highly memorable. They serve to make an effect which is crowned by a complex finger-twisting fugue.

Finally we come to the Four Christmas pieces - the Fêtes de Noël - which sometimes crop up on Christmas compilations. These are folk-like pieces, again Russian in style and refer to various parts of the Christmas festivities. So we have depictions of Christmas Eve, The Procession of the Magi, Christmas Carol Singers and lastly a Christmas Song. The first starts with a very quiet and evocative theme before some nicely florid writing. After a little development, the quiet theme returns, almost like a chorus between verses. There are some interesting harmonic changes as the piece develops but the overall atmosphere is one of relaxed peace. The last minute or so sounds like a Russian Chorale with some really lovely accompaniment building to a powerful ending which suddenly evaporates into the ether. The Procession of the Magi has a rather sinister marching bass to start with. This disappears so that around 1:30 we have a cheerful tune which goes along with the return of that creepy march. This completely vanishes in a joyous outburst at about 2:30 which develops and concludes the piece. The playing again is superb. Next follows a cheerful and jolly set of Carol Singers. In this I detect a hint of Liszt’s Carillon from The Christmas Tree suite (S.186) – a comparison which is made in the notes and with which I do not disagree. It ends quite abruptly which is a shame as it could well have lasted longer. The final piece is a very rapid and happy Christmas song with a strongly Russian feeling. It features some odd key changes and interesting themes. Having listened to this a number of times, this is naggingly memorable in the very best sense. It’s unremittingly cheerful and fun and ends delicately and gently. Definitely one to enjoy after a large Christmas meal.

There is some very mature-sounding playing on this disc which belies the fact that Mr. Noack is only in his mid-twenties. This is one of those recordings that I would perhaps not recommend listening to all in one go – there is far too much going on. It would be better to break it up into manageable parts and absorb it properly. This is the way to appreciate it more. It really is tremendous stuff.

The liner-notes are interesting and easy to read and include other information about the composer as well as some references to how his music relates to the music of others.

The disc is very well filled and nicely produced with superb sound quality. One question remains though - why is Florian Noack shown running across the back of the CD case?

I look forward to the remainder of the discs in this set as I am certain that Mr. Noack is fully in tune with this composer's mindset.

Jonathan Welsh
Previous review: Stephen Greenbank


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