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Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5 (1918-63)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 6 (1918) [43:23]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 22 (1930) [39:23]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in B flat minor, Op. 31 (1937) [25:55]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 48 (1953) [27:05]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in D major, Op. 58 (1963) [42:14]
Silhouettes for piano, Op. 66 (1974) [8:04]
Teodor Moussev (piano - 1), Ivan Drenikov (piano - 3, 4), Krassimir Gatev (piano – 2, Silhouettes), Pancho Vladigerov (piano - 5)
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Vladigerov
rec. 1972-78 (1-4); 1964 (5), Sofia, Bulgaria
CAPRICCIO C8060 [3 CDs: 184:54]

Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov’s years of studying both in Bulgaria and in Berlin (teachers: Friedrich Gernsheim and Georg Schumann) led to him working as conductor, pianist and composer. His work-list is crowded and includes an opera (Tsar Kaloyan), ballets, two symphonies (1939, 1949), two violin concertos (1921, 1968), chamber music, works for solo piano and songs including folksong arrangements for voice and orchestra. There’s also incidental music from his years at the core of theatre life in Berlin, Vienna and Sofia. As a composer his legacy has barely been appreciated, except obliquely through his pupils. He also had a distinguished academic life. His complement of students included Alexander Raichev, Alexander Yossifov and Alexis Weissenberg. There’s even a Piano Concerto 'In Memory of Pancho Vladigerov' by Krasimir Kyurkchiyski (1936-2011). Vladigerov’s many orchestral pieces, at times dipped in folk character, include works recorded by Naxos and CPO (777 125-2). He played a part in founding the Union of Bulgarian Composers.

The 1970s saw the composer’s death at the age of almost 80, as well as what turned out to be final throes of the LP. Vladigerov was blessed at that time in his home country with the issue of a massive series of Balkanton LPs. These purported to present his complete works. Not that this was an obstacle to Melodiya LPs of the last three piano concertos with the composer as soloist. Those Balkanton analogue recordings surfaced sparsely, isolated and piecemeal on CD in the decades that followed. Capriccio now crown that pioneering spirit with what I guess will be a systematic 18-CD Vladigerov Edition. This box is the first entry in the tourney.

Across these three CDs are set out his five three-movement piano concertos. A good sign is that Capriccio make time for some respectful silences between works. These five far from avant-garde concertos were written between the end of the Great War and the rise of The Beatles. The conductor is Alexander Vladigerov, the composer’s son. These are not new minted recordings but don’t let that hold you back. They are all stereo and in respectable, well wrought sound that is a credit to Capriccio’s audio engineers working with fifty-plus year old original tapes. The only mono is the composer’s own reading of the fifth concerto. In these works, Vladigerov defiantly asserts his confidence but within an affluent folk-romantic tonal vocabulary.

The Moderato of the First Concerto (a work that won the Mendelssohn Prize) rises to assertive magniloquence - heroism and adversity emerging from a suggestive tense gloom. There’s a touch of the Grieg and of the first two Rachmaninov concertos about it. The piano speaks masterfully and is firmly anchored at the centre of the audio stage. Storm-tossed romance is never far distant, as can be heard in the swooning central Andante Cantabile. Minatory clouds are the order of the day in the finale which has its Rimskian moments, mordantly craggy writing and some sentiment-heavy writing for the strings. The concerto ends in a sliding scree of forked lightning.

The Second World War loomed over the completion of the Third Concerto. In this version pianist Drenikov is no less masterful than Moussev in the first concerto. The writing glitters and swirls and exults in a world of language dipped liberally in Rimskian colour and Rachmaninovian mastery. The piano is in constant motion. There’s a sultry middle Andante with a potent and soulful cello solo. The stomping and strutting of the Allegro Moderato touches on Vladigerov’s folk sympathies.

From 1930, the Second Concerto - an even more concentrated work that its predecessor - is steeped in fluent writing that brings Rachmaninov’s tempests into torrential conflict with Rimskian tension. It positively explodes from the page. A concentrated Andante cantabile breathes Slavonic sentiment. The jaunty Allegro con fuoco cogently finds space for some highly romantic moments.

The post-war Fourth Piano Concerto is separated from its predecessor by sixteen years. Once again, explosive caprice is the order of the day. Strangely enough many of these works also recall, for me, the oratory of Arnold Bax in the Symphonic Variations. It so happens that the year of the Fourth Concerto also saw Bax’s death. A clarinet solo intertwines with the piano line in the central movement. The Molto Vivace has about it something of Ravel’s G major piano concerto.

A sometimes touching Fifth Concerto, played by the composer, again breathes romance. Perhaps the agreeably relentless tension of the four earlier concertos is a little less in evidence. Not quite as lapidary nor as headlong as the earlier works it still inhabits the world of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto. The middle Andante - he did like central andantes - is cool and transparently orchestrated. An almost Bartókian shriek opens the gawkily furious final Allegro. The oldest recording here (1964), it does have a slight boxiness as a listening experience but makes its points and its emotional punch well as you might have expected with the composer at the piano stool.

The only solo piano work here, the Five Silhouettes, Op. 66 (1974), is played by Krassimir Gatev, who is also the soloist in the Second Concerto. The five movements are: Introduction, Reminiscence, Dance, Poetry and Cheerful Dance. The music stands with bright confidence equidistant between Ravel, the folksy Albanian piano solos on Kirsten Johnson’s Guild CDs (Kenge and Rapsodi) and Igor Shamo.

The well-appointed liner-notes, in German and English, are by Christian Heindl. These, together with the three discs, are accommodated in a broad plastic box and all fitted into a card slip case.

Reservations you may have had about this being an Eastern Bloc project need to be stilled. True, the composer, pianists and orchestra are pretty much unknown in what we used to call the West but the recording technology is very sturdy - rather than glamorous - and the music has romantic fantasy and folk spirit and performances to match. I trust that we will not have to wait long before the later volumes appear - especially the symphonies and the two violin concertos. This is a major project but more than that: auspicious and enjoyable.

Rob Barnett

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