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Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Six Exotic Preludes, Op 17 (1924) [38:57]
Ten Impressions, Op 9 (1920) [41:03]
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
rec. August 2019, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA 68327 [80:00]

Much of the focus on Vladigerov’s music has been on his bold, multi-coloured orchestral and concertante music, notably that for violin. There has been significantly less exploration of the solo piano music which makes this disc all the more welcome.

Both cycles are products of the first half of the 1920s. The Ten Impressions was written in 1920 and each bears a descriptive title. The milieu here is relatively light, with an occasional domestic but not quite salon inclination in places, alongside the Bulgarian romanticism of which he was so august a practitioner. Vladigerov also investigates the Viennese school via the Waltz-capriccio and a popular song ethos in the case of Caress. Refinement co-exists in this set with virtuoso panache, a feature of Elegance, the fifth of the set. There are droll effects too as well as an intense sense of compressed excitement – sample Passion, where the music rises and subsides, all passion spent, one feels. Without ever being gloomy this set ends in quiet, almost romantic resignation.

Where the Ten Impressions are quite compressed the Six Exotic Preludes are written on a somewhat more expansive span. Their titles are less florid and suggestive than those of the Impressions. Written in 1924 they operate on a somewhat wider sphere of influence and geographical latitude. One moment there is the allure of Iberian sunshine (No 1 Nocturne-Serenade), music of such opulence that one willingly surrenders even to its Tchaikovskian hints, and then one encounters the cross-cultural ‘Eastern’ hues of the innocuously titled Prelude, the first of two such Preludes. The driving bravura of the Exotic Dance surely has its origins in Ravel and it requires a powerful technique to project its myriad difficulties before Vladigerov grants a moment of reprieve both to listener and performer in the rippling charm of the Evening Song. As the penultimate piece, the second Prelude, pulses and generates profuse heat one is again reminded of Ravel – clearly for Vladigerov the Prelude summoned up the image of the French composer – before the work’s concluding Elegy brings a full complement of colour and detail.

Those familiar with his large-scale orchestral works – some written at around the same time as these and mining defiantly Nationalistic soil - may be surprised that in his solo piano works he proves a different, more exploratory composer, yoking Franco-Spanish influence with that of the Middle-East and adding Russophile affiliations as much as Central European, Austro-Hungarian ones too. The result is a fascinating melange and shows him to be the inheritor of a more complex weave of influences than might otherwise be imagined.

Pianist Nadejda Vlaeva has recorded Bortkiewicz (CDA68118) and Bach transcriptions (CDA67873) for Hyperion. I’ve not heard the Bortkiewicz but I have certainly heard the Bach and it’s vividly played, lively and athletic. She brings precisely these qualities allied to a very real virtuosity and tonal sensitivity to this recital, recorded in one of Hyperion’s favoured churches in London. Francis Pott has done a tremendous job with the notes but it’s Vlaeva’s show, and she brings the young Vladigerov to life with bravura and elegance.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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