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Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Six Exotic Preludes Op 17 (1924) [38:54]
Ten Impressions Op 9 (1920) [40:58]
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
rec. August 2019, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68327 [79:52]

Here is a composer who, had he not died nigh half a century ago, would today have been basking in a bit of a rebirth. His music is being given fresh access by a series (four so far) of Capriccio boxed sets of his orchestral music. There are also individual CDs from CPO and Naxos. For this plentifully filled volume Hyperion have chosen wisely and well in Nadejda Vlaeva who was given liberty to play two sets from Vladigerov’s sumptuous solo piano music.

The excellent notes, which treat musical matters and relate them to Vladigerov and the history and politics of Bulgaria, are by Francis Pott. Unlike so many others, including Bortkiewicz (also championed by Vlaeva and Hyperion), with whom there are some stylistic parallels, Vladigerov, having sojourned in Vienna, Kiev, Paris, Berlin and Switzerland, ultimately chose to cleave to the country of his birth. He showed a precocious talent for the piano and for composition. In Berlin he studied first with Friedrich Gernsheim and then with Georg Schumann. Having returned to Sofia, in 1932, he was appointed a professor at the State Academy of Music which nowadays has become the National Academy of Music “Prof Pancho Vladigerov’ such is the regard in which he was and is held.

These two amply proportioned sets of piano solos - they’re not miniatures - are from the 1920s, Vladigerov’s years of wandering. Their supercharged colours emerge in a blend that leans towards romanticism and impressionism. In the Exotic Preludes - the later set - Vlaeva lights the blue touchpaper and keeps the combustible invention flowing. Neither of these sets appear to be engineered conventionally to be played as complete works. As a sequence, they end on a downbeat: poetic, but not playing to any gallery.

The Exotic Preludes declare their colours in their title and are more extended works than the Impressions. The ‘Nocturne-Serenade’ tumbles forward in cut-glass grandeur. It marries echoes of Rachmaninov and intimations of the Orient. There are two Preludes here and the first one is stern and heroic. Again, it rejoices in virtuosic romance that jousts with impressionism. The ‘Exotic Dance’ is the longest of the Exotic Preludes: whirling slowly and quickly, decorative and fragrant. The ‘Evening Song’ can be related to the quieter poetry Moeran explored in some of his piano solos. Vladigerov here speaks of a peaceable kingdom yet slowly unleashes pearly swirls of notes. There’s a strange progression towards the sinister (e.g. Bax’s Winter Waters) and the jewel-encrusted. The second ‘Prelude’ revels in swift activity: maelstrom eddies. It too finds, through a folksong undercurrent, a caressed and balmy healing. The final ‘Elegy’ is restful; not at all a tormented elegy. The set was orchestrated in 1955.

The Impressions have quotidian mood-titles. They are often a bit showy and here the style fairly often fits the salon like a glove. ‘Desire’ charts a slow descent into languor. ‘Embrace’ is dance-inflected rather than privately passionate. As if to extend the mood, the next piece is a ‘Waltz-capriccio’, followed by ‘Caress’. ‘Elegance’ is a piece overarched by swirling pearly rills and chuckles. ‘Confession’ is all languid smiles and ballroom pot-plants. ‘Laughter ‘reeks of elfin humour and of Godowsky in his best tumbling and rippling mode. ‘Passion’ is the least salony and most passionate of the set yet concludes with a gentle touch applied and reminiscences of Cyril Scott’s impressionism. The next piece, ‘Surprise’ does not seek to jolt the listener. The only surprise is that it comprises, at some length, music of thoughtful musing adrift in the realm between sleep and waking. The set ends with an emotionally disengaged piece entitled ‘Resignation’.

The splendid Vlaeva is no newcomer. There is a disc of esoteric Bach Transcriptions on Hyperion. Con Brio allotted her a chance with the Vladigerov Bulgarian Rhapsody "Vardar" for Two Pianos, Op 16 (review). She has also put in an appearance in Danacord’s Husum series. Perhaps she will give us more Vladigerov.

Hyperion have already shown commitment towards another Bulgarian composer - Dimiter Nenov (1901-1953) - so it is a natural progression for them to engage with Vladigerov. Hyperion’s artistic values are evidenced by decent measures of silence between tracks and Vlaeva benefits from extremely finely engineered sound that communicates a life-imbued tone and an open acoustic. All this is as immaculately engineered by Ben Connellan and produced by Rachel Smith.

Rob Barnett


Six Exotic Preludes Op 17 [38:54]
1 No 1, Nocturne-serenade [6:19]
2 No 2, Prelude [6:15]
3 No 3, Exotic dance [7:48]
4 No 4, Evening song [5:48]
5 No 5, Prelude [6:57]
6 No 6, Elegy [5:47]

Ten Impressions Op 9 [40:58]
7 No 1, Desire [2:55]
8 No 2, Embrace [4:11]
9 No 3, Waltz-capriccio [3:36]
10 No 4, Caress [2:10]
11 No 5, Elegance [5:03]
12 No 6, Confession [2:14]
13 No 7, Laughter [5:08]
14 No 8, Passion [5:26]
15 No 9, Surprise [6:13]
16 No 10, Resignation [4:02]

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