I inserted the first disc of this set into my CD player with trepidation. Previously, I had reviewed Vol.1 of Olga Solovieva's still incomplete Lyadov traversal for Toccata Classics [Complete Piano Music 1] and, waxing enthusiastic over both player and repertoire, stated that "the rest of this series cannot be released fast enough to please me." I'd been hoping for a complete recording of Lyadov's piano music for a long time, but had been a bit disappointed by Rapetti's sporadically mannered Borodin [Borodin: Complete Piano Music]. Frankly, I was worried that I was going to hate this set. Seldom have I ever been so happy to be WRONG!
Whereas in the Borodin set I occasionally found Rapetti annoyingly coy and calculated (and still do), here I find him appropriately and entertainingly arch--yet every roguish nuance seems spontaneous. Whatever the explanation, I find his playing here highly enjoyable, and this set, highly recommendable. Rapetti tosses off Lyadov's considerable technical demands with unruffled ease, responding to Lyadov's versatility by alternately summoning thundering bravura, teasing flexibility, peasant bluffness, impudent wit, or expansive lyricism as required--as if by the flip of a switch.
Liadov had a reputation for laziness, and his output is small, both in quantity and dimensions. Few of these pieces are over three minutes in length, and most are less. Furthermore, all of these CD's are under and hour in length, but, as Tracey said of Hepburn, "Not much meat on her, but what there is, is cherce!" For those unfamiliar with the idiom of this important associate of the Russian Five, I paraphrase my own earlier review: "...Schumannesque whimsy and Chopinesque filigree (there are quite a few mazurkas) with a touch of Rimsky and Borodin. Lyadov's powers of invention are unfailingly engaging, as one delightful miniature succeeds another. Balakirev and Cui occasionally wrote things almost as lovely, but not at this level of consistent achievement." I might add that certain other pieces have a touch of Liszt. For example, put on CD#4 track 27, and prepare to be bewitched by one of my favorites, the "Barcarolle in F-sharp". Here, I confess to being slightly disappointed by Rapetti's interpretation. I would have wished for even greater espansiveness at the climax--Coombs comes closer to my ideal, but then, I've played the piece myself, so I'm biased! By Lyadov's Op.36 some influences of Scriabin's characteristic pianistic figurations and harmony from the Op.40 period turn up. However, Lyadov never goes so far as the most "modernist" harmony of Scriabin's last compositions (although the 4 pieces of Op.64 come close), and the influence never becomes all-encompassing. (And yes, "Musical Snuffbox" is in here, too.)
Lyadov liked to participate in "group projects," to which each of the members of his circle--Rimsky, Cui, Borodin, Glazunov, Blumenfeld and even Liszt (!), to name the more famous--contributed one or more short pieces. The most celebrated of these (or notorious--Balakirev thought they were a scandalous waste of time!) are the two sets of "paraphrases" on the fluff known to Americans as "Chopsticks"--these are the "24 Variations" and the "Paraphrases." These works consist of one pianist endlessly playing the "Chopsticks" tune as an ostinato, while the other pianist plays rings around him. (Akane Makita joins Rapetti for these and the other four-hand pieces. There's even a two-piano, eight hands piece, "Slava," where they are joined by Giampaolo Nuti and Daniela de Santis.) The "24," composed in collaboration with Cui and Rimsky, are included herein. Although Borodin did not contribute to the "24", I had lamented the absence of this set in Rapetti's Borodin set for the sake of completeness.
At any rate, the "24" IS in the present Lyadov set, as well as Lyadov's four contributions to the "Paraphrases" set (composed with Liszt, Rimsky, Borodin, and Cui). Rapetti includes the COMPLETE "Paraphrases" on his Borodin CD's. In passing, although I'm not usually wild about Cui, his "Valse" (in the "Paraphrases" set) is the masterpiece of the series. The poker-faced insouciance with which he imposes far-ranging modulations over the ostinato's unyielding C major have to be heard to be believed!
Unfortunately, that's NOT the end of it--there's yet a further set of "Chopsticks" pieces by Nikolai Stcherbacheff titled "Bigarrures," which he wrote at the invitation of Cui, Rimsky and Borodin. This is not in either of Rapetti's sets. All three sets were included on a Musical Heritage Society LP by Hans Kann called "Russian Piano Music." Kann doggedly kept the "Chopsticks" portion in the same tempo throughout. Rapetti allows himself and his colleague more liberty. Thus, their performances are vastly more musical, and the "Chopsticks" repetitions less tedious.
The five CD's are packed in Brilliant's typically sturdy clamshell box, each disc in its own cardboard sleeve, with the opus numbers printed on back. The pieces are arranged on the discs in order of date (of composition?), which corresponds, roughly, to opus order. The booklet gives the track numbers and titles for the individual pieces. There is also a CD-ROM (!) with extensive notes in English and Italian by the performer, and a picture gallery of composer photos and music cover pages. My wife, who is a computer whiz, pronounced the several accompanying viewing softwares "archaic". I had no trouble viewing the notes and pictures just by clicking on the files.
Lovers of Russian nationalism, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt, should waste no time in snapping up this attractive and important box. This is to take nothing away from the equally fine accomplishment of Ms. Solovieva's Volume One, but Toccata Classics had better look to their laurels, and "put the pedal to the metal" to catch up. Thank you, Brilliant! This set is the fulfillment of a cherished wish, and I'll be hanging on to it for a long time.