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HALL OF FAMEon 18 January 2011
We tend to know little of the music of Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov (1859-1924) although he is clearly in the line of descent of the great Russian composers like Balakirev, Glinka, Borodin and Tchaikovsky. Indeed, the studied with both Balakirev and Tchaikovsky and was a particular protégé of Balakirev whose piano concerto he finished after the older composer's death. Lyapunov was a fine pianist and wrote very well for the piano. His gorgeous and monumental Transcendental Etudes have been recorded a number of times. I have reviewed an early recording by Louis Kentner Lyapunov: 12 Études d'Exécution Transcendante, Op. 11 and raved about it; then I encountered the recording, in much more modern sound, by Konstantin Scherbakov and liked it even more Liapunov: Piano Works. As you can tell from the name of his études he was influenced by Liszt; the two concertos on this disc are one-movement works, like Liszt's Second Concerto. And his piano writing is similar to Liszt's as well. But the melodic and harmonic fingerprints are entirely Russian. One could easily imagine his tunes coming from Tchaikovsky, say. The First (1890) is big and dramatic, the Second (1909) is a bit more genial and relaxed. Both are heroic, virtuosic and tightly constructed in a modified arch form. There is plenty of opportunity for display and Russian pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze does herself proud. [And interesting side note: Tsintsabadze studied in New York with the mother, Oxana Yablonskaya, of the CD's conductor, Dmitry Yablonsky.]

The third piece on the disc is Lyapunov's Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, from 1907 (a couple of years before the Second Concerto). It is less immediately engaging than the two concerti if only because its melodic content is a little prosaic. But its rondo form and the dance rhythms make it attractive nonetheless. And if anything it is the even more folklorically 'Russian' (or, more properly, 'Ukrainian') than the concerti; shades of Borodin or Rimsky-Korsakov. Yablonsky and his Russian Philharmonic are excellent.

An altogether attractive CD. If you like late romantic Russian music, this might just be for you.

Scott Morrison
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