Hyperion continues with it highly valuable yet somewhat uneven "Romantic Piano Concerto" series with the release of Lyapunov's works for piano and orchestra. It mentions that the First Piano Concerto is a premiere recording. A shocking claim, perhaps, for Melodiya was too enterprising to pass this compelling piece of music by, and it's possible that there may be a recording or two of the music in archives (imagine if the Russian Revelation label continues to operate today). Besides, Lyapunov piano music was held too much in high esteem especially by the turn of the 20th Century for even prominent musicians to ignore (but then again I'm reminded that even pianists could be very selective, ignoring even the most memorable of piano music of, say Glazunov, Medtner Catoire, Arensky, to some extent Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, and even Lyapunov himself).
And Lyapunov's First Concerto is a compelling piece of music, rather as ambitious as the First Symphony written two years before, in 1888. And where the piano bravura is more or less in the mode of Lizst and Balakirev, the thematic invention and rhetoric are very much Lyapunov's own. Not to say that the composition is of its upmost originality, but the ideas and handling of them show why Lyapunov is a major point of reference when studying and analyzing Russian music. Listen to the piano entry at 1'42", how poetic yet noble the writing becomes (thanks in part to Milne's highly charged yet imaginative delivery here). There's something heroic within that recalls Balakirev (especially in his First Concerto). But the writing remains lucid, and in the second and fourth movements, beautiful and tranquil. The third movement is heroic, much in the manner of Liszt (his First Concerto-first movement), but in convincingly Russian in temperament, as in the finale, which rarely flags. A major accomplishment no doubt.
Lyapunov's Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes (1907) is in a rondo form, with the first theme (andante pastorale) announced by the cor anglais then by the woodwinds. It's a beautiful yet an innocent theme, recalling a bit of Balakirev and Rimsky- Korsakov, though in a Lyapunovian sense of lucidity. The piano entry is likewise beautiful yet poetic - like leaves blossoming in early Spring. And this theme truly blossom into something more expressive as it goes along, with the theme more emphatic at the finale bars. The second theme (allegro scherzando) is dancelike and flamboyant as in the orchestration. But the third theme (andante pastorale) returns to these same leaves still blossoming in great beauty & nobleness in character. It leads itself purposefully to the final theme (allegro giocoso), which is a kazachok (an Ukrainian folkdance). This theme, rather exuberant yet charming, become more Lizstian at the final minute of the work (listen to 3'05"-ff on track 9) but never devoid of Lyapunov's individualism.
The Second Concerto (1909) is likewise a substantial affair, not as heroic as the First, but easy-going in its' noble, romantic way. In six continuous movements, the piece is rewardingly concise and, like the First Concerto & the Rhapsody, richly varied. The opening movement (lento ma non troppo) is indeed beautiful and lovely-a fantasia tranquil yet exotic. Whereas the second and fourth movements (allegro molto ed appasionato & allegro molto respectively) offer some vivacity, the third movement and fifth movements (allegro moderato & lento ma non troppo) has a compelling lightness of touch, rendered beautifully here by Milne (with a charmingly support of Brabbins & the BBC Scottish Symphony). But the poetic yet heroic moments of the finale are hardly banal, with the closing convincingly majestic that would have done Borodin proud (for a moment I thought of Prince Igor).
The renditions here are fully ideal. After giving high praise in Hamish Milne's survey of Alexandrov's piano music (under the Hyperion label), Milne comes up huge here. His vivacious and imaginative playing are never in doubt, and his virtuosity in the First Concerto and in the Rhapsody adds to the compelling nature of the works. But the beauty and the dignity Milne brings in the slow movements of the works are worthy of everlasting praise. The same shall be said of the BBC Scottish Symphony, which has this Russian sonority that reminds me the Russian Federation Orchestra under the late Svetlanov (and I tend to forget, going along memory lane, that it is the BBC Scottish Symphony among the main features here). Brabbins' approach incidentally reminds me of Svetlanov, placing great emphasis on organic growth. While he's not as overindulgent as Svetlanov can sometimes be, he is as decisive as this late, great Russian maestro (listen to Brabbins' renditions of Bortkiewicz' symphonies). Edward Garden's booklet essay is of high quality, along with the recording, with its warmth and somewhat bright incandescence.
No doubt a great yet important release which will raise Lyapunov status as Russia's important composer significantly. The blossoming of the leaves well worth waking up for, with this CD album in one's deep yet searching subconsciousness.