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Hyperion Records

CDA67326 - Lyapunov: Piano Concertos
CDA67326

Recording details: June 2002
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2002
Total duration: 58 minutes 43 seconds

'A disc as beautiful as it is comprehensive … throughout, Hamish Milne holds his head high, lucidly and affectionately commanding cascades of notes, and he is stylishly partnered by Martyn Brabbins' (Gramophone)

'Yet another programme that makes incomprehensible the narrow choice of 19th-century piano concertos heard in our concert halls today' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is one of the very best entries in Hyperion’s ongoing survey, and I’m pleased to recommend it to you without the slightest hesitation' (American Record Guide)

'Russian melodic flavour, colourful orchestration and sonorous piano writing is present in abundance throught this very welcome release … The combination of Lyapunov's complete piano-and-orchestra output on one disc, in excellent performances and superb recorded sound, make a favourable recommendation mandatory' (International Record Review)

'Milne, as usual, offers resilient rhythms and tightly focused phrasing marked by a refreshing attention to detail … you’re unlikely to hear a better performance of this repertoire in the foreseeable future' (Fanfare, USA)

'With the risk of the laser beam totally ruining this new Hyperion release from repeated playing, I am now prepared to throw away a few more symphonies just to make room for more Lyapunov' (Pianist)

'This is bejewelled writing carried off with spiritual and technical mastery by Milne' (MusicWeb International)

'there’s no denying the sumptuous virtuosity inherent in these pieces, which pianist Hamish Milne tosses off with obvious relish and technical assurance' (ClassicsToday.com)

The Romantic Piano Concerto
Piano Concertos
Allegro con brio  [6'53]
Adagio non tanto  [3'06]
Adagio non tanto  [3'28]
Allegro con brio  [4'00]
Allegro giocoso  [4'44]
Allegro moderato  [2'36]
Allegro molto  [3'22]
Allegro molto  [5'05]

Over the ten years that the Romantic Piano Concerto has been running one of the projects most often requested by the many fans of the series has been a recording of the complete Lyapunov works for piano and orchestra. Well finally here it is!

These three works, all written in the ten years either side of 1900, are typical of the Russian nationalist school (Lyapunov was a pupil and disciple of Balakirev) with their colourful orchestration and often folk-inspired melodies. The other great hero in Lyapunov's life was Liszt and both the concertos are in a single multisectional movement as pioneered by the Hungarian. Their virtuosity too is Lisztian and there are many cadenza-like passages akin to those found in that master's concertos.

This is the premiere recording of the first concerto.

Who better to play these pieces than Hamish Milne, who has made a speciality of Russian music (he has made many Medtner recordings and his Hyperion recording of Alexandrov has just been exceptionally well received), and the ever excellent BBCSSO consducted by Martyn Brabbins (who also has impeccable Russian credentials—he studied conducting in Leningrad!).


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'Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos' (CDA66969)
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'Busoni: Piano Concerto' (CDA67143)
Busoni: Piano Concerto
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'MacDowell: Piano Concertos' (CDA67165)
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
After the death of Lyapunov’s father in Yaroslavl when he was about eight, he and his mother and two brothers moved to the larger town of Nizhny Novgorod. There the boys were educated at the grammar school and the musically talented Sergei joined the classes of the newly formed local branch of the Russian Musical Society. On the recommendation of Nikolai Rubinstein, the Director of the Moscow Conservatory of Music, he enrolled in that institution in 1878, his principal teachers being Liszt’s former pupil Karl Klindworth (piano), and Tchaikovsky’s former pupil and successor at the Conservatory, Sergei Taneyev (composition). He graduated with honours in 1883, and at the end of the year first met Balakirev, moving permanently to St Petersburg to be with that well-known composer in 1885, becoming the most important member of Balakirev’s latterday circle. Balakirev, who had himself been born and bred in Nizhny Novgorod, took the self-effacing young pianist-composer under his wing and supervised his early compositions as closely as he had done with the members of his circle of the 1860s, nowadays known as ‘The Five’, which had included (besides himself) Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Cui. Lyapunov was involved in the collection of folksongs for the Imperial Geographical Society, succeeded Rimsky-Korsakov as assistant director of music at the Imperial Chapel, and finally became a professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1911. After living through the Revolution, he emigrated to Paris in 1923 and directed a school of music for Russian émigrés there, but died of a heart attack the following year.

Lyapunov was born between, on the one hand, ‘The Five’ and Tchaikovsky (who was their contemporary but was not of their number), and on the other, the radical composers of the later period, including Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. This interim period produced composers some of whom, such as Glazunov, followed a rather bland path, and others, such as Rachmaninov, a style of very ripe late Romanticism. Lyapunov, though undoubtedly a late-Romantic composer, having chosen Balakirev as his mentor was not in either of these camps. Balakirev put him to work on a symphony, just as he had done with his pupils a couple of decades earlier, and as was the case with their first symphonies (especially Rimsky-Korsakov’s) Lyapunov’s work, attractive though it is, shows the considerable influence of the older man both in harmonic and melodic structures and in orchestration; it is also indebted to Borodin. Other shorter orchestral works of this early period are also to some extent derivative, but the Solemn Overture on Russian Themes demonstrates his ability to incorporate folksongs and their intonations into his music in an individual way.

But being almost as fine a pianist as Balakirev himself, it is in his works for solo piano, piano and orchestra and songs with piano accompaniment that his excellence as a composer is best demonstrated. His most famous work is his Douze études d’exécution transcendante, Op 11 (1897-1905), written in memory of Liszt. This is undoubtedly his magnum opus, containing as it does studies of a very high order covering a wide field of emotions and requiring supreme technical virtuosity. But there are many other piano pieces which are almost completely neglected not only in the West but in his native Russia as well. Among these are a ravishingly beautiful Barcarolle, and a Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor in which the fugue, composed in the white heat of inspiration, is one of the best in the late Romantic piano repertory, a tribute to his contrapuntal training by that supreme contrapuntist, Sergei Taneyev. His songs, too, are shamefully overlooked. Nor, until now, have the three original works for piano and orchestra had more than occasional performances, even if the First Concerto was heard a number of times in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Like Rimsky-Korsakov’s First Symphony, Lyapunov’s First Piano Concerto is in E flat minor, a key much more suitable for a piano concerto than for a symphony, for this key lies surprisingly well under the fingers (Rimsky was later to revise his symphony and to transpose it into E minor). As well as being very well written for the piano, the orchestration is imaginative, with prominent use of the cor anglais. While his First Symphony, premièred in 1888, had to wait until 1901 to be published, and even then was seldom performed, the concerto was published in Berlin in the mid 1890s, and this gave it a greater currency than that achieved by his other concerted compositions. It had been completed in 1890 and received its first performance under the baton of Balakirev with his Free School of Music orchestra in the spring of 1891, with I A Borovka as soloist. (At this concert the Te Deum of Berlioz was also performed.) In spite of the costs involved, Balakirev recalled that the concert ‘more or less covered its expenses’ – a very satisfactory outcome for this state-subsidised institution. Other pianists to take up the concerto included Sapelnikov, Igumnov and, more importantly, V I Scriabina (Scriabin’s wife) and Josef Hofmann, who performed the concerto in Paris and elsewhere in the West as well as in Russia. Furthermore, it received a Belyayev Glinka Prize in 1904 (together with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, Scriabin’s third and fourth piano sonatas and Taneyev’s C minor Symphony). And, in a photograph sent to me by Lyapunov’s daughter Anastasia, Balakirev is pictured by a piano on the music desk of which is clearly to be seen the score of the Lyapunov concerto. (This is reproduced in my book on Balakirev.)

The photograph demonstrates Balakirev’s approval of the concerto, for which he felt a close affinity, as well he might since, as with the symphony but not to the same extent, he had a hand in its composition. Even after the score had been copied out in readiness for its first performance Balakirev could not resist last-minute emendations, albeit very minor ones: ‘It was necessary to alter one or two passages where the harmonies did not agree at the end’, he wrote to Lyapunov. During the course of composition, Lyapunov had told Balakirev that he was having difficulties with the slow movement. These may have been caused by Balakirev’s view that there should never be the slightest sign of sentimentality in such movements. Balakirev advised that he should look at the concertos of Chopin, the Larghetto of Henselt’s Piano Concerto in F minor and the Andante movement of Arensky’s concerto, also in F minor. Balakirev felt that Lyapunov’s slow movement should be in a key which contrasted with E flat minor, and suggested B major or D major. Lyapunov chose D major, but he decided that it should be incorporated in a cyclic concerto in one movement, like Liszt’s Second Concerto and, nearer to home, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Piano Concerto, which is not only in one movement but is based on metamorphoses of a single melody – a folk tune selected from Balakirev’s 1866 collection. Balakirev was favourably disposed towards this concerto and had conducted its first performance early in 1884. It was published in 1886, just before Lyapunov started work on his concerto. Moreover, in the recapitulation of Lyapunov’s concerto, the initial order of the subjects is reversed, as in the third and fifth piano concertos of Anton Rubinstein. But the most overwhelming impression made by the concerto is that it is imbued with the music of the first and second symphonies of Borodin: the way the subjects are contrasted and some of the ‘heroic’ materials, including Lyapunov’s use of the brass in his recapitulation, are derived from Borodin’s Second Symphony; and, even more importantly, the overall imprint of the First Symphony in E flat major (with a structurally vital introduction in E flat minor) is unmistakable. This symphony had been composed under the guidance of Balakirev, who conducted its première early in 1869 and who will have been happy to help the young Lyapunov to compose a concerto in a similar mould.

But all these influences and models do not prevent Lyapunov’s concerto from being a work of substantial merit, demonstrating the increasing maturity of his creative powers. The structure which emerged from his careful consideration of all the possibilities ideally suits the contents of the concerto. The opening Allegro con brio, in triple time, starts with an initial plain octave ‘call to arms’ in E flat minor (loud, arresting and abrasive) followed immediately by a melody with chordal accompaniment which modulates to the relative major key of G flat, with some cross-rhythms à la Schumann (smooth, tender and tentative). Lyapunov bases his first and third sections on these motifs, which are extended and transformed in many different ways. The middle Adagio non tanto section, in D major as we have seen, consisting of the contents of the sandwich, is beautiful without being maudlin and fits well between the outer layers; it recurs most enticingly towards the end, and in the coda all the themes are juggled with great dexterity. This is altogether much too good a concerto to have been neglected for so long. It is relatively short, and could easily be combined in a single concert programme with Rimsky-Korsakov’s concerto, also short, or with Lyapunov’s own Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes.

The Rhapsody is in an easily recognisable simple rondo form. The first folk theme (A), Andantino pastorale, starting in F sharp minor, is delightful in its initial simplicity, though it eventually becomes more emphatic, leading after a gradually quietening cadenza to the bouncy second theme (B), Allegretto scherzando, which begins in B flat minor. After a return to the first theme (A), again Andantino pastorale, the most ebullient of the folk themes (C), Allegro giocoso, is heard in F sharp major. It is a kazachok of a type danced by the Ukrainian Cossacks. In the climactic coda, the first theme (A) returns in noble style, in the context of its faster successor. The combination of charm, exuberance and exhilaration is irresistible. The work requires of the player, to an even greater extent than Lyapunov’s First Concerto, an extraordinary virtuoso technique of the Lisztian type, composed as it was in the wake of his own Transcendental Studies and at the same time as his one-movement Piano Sonata, a work of fiendish difficufty. If the Rhapsody is played with sufficient aplomb, the effect is scintillating. Completed in 1907, published by J H Zimmermann in Leipzig the following year, and first performed in the spring of 1909 with Lyapunov himself as soloist and the Free School Orchestra conducted by A A Bemardi, it was dedicated to Busoni.

Already, by 1909, Lyapunov had completed his Second Piano Concerto in E major. The one-movement form which had been explored in the First Concerto and in the Sonata is further developed here, and it is this aspect of the Second Concerto that Balakirev particularly praised; its obvious indebtedness to Liszt’s Second Concerto would not in the least have worried the Lisztophile Balakirev. It was published the following year, in 1910, but was overshadowed at the time for two reasons. First, the centenary of Chopin’s birth fell in 1910, and both Balakirev and Lyapunov, in the manner of the time, composed orchestral pieces based on Chopin’s piano music for the occasion: Lyapunov wrote his symphonic poem Zelazowa Wola (Chopin’s birth place) and Balakirev composed his Chopin Suite. These had to be ready for the concert, which was duly conducted by Lyapunov on 22 February/6 March 1910. Secondly, Balakirev’s work on the Chopin Suite had delayed the completion of his own Piano Concerto in E flat major, which had only reached the end of the second movement. Balakirev died on 16/28 May 1910 without having written down his finale. When he knew that he would be too weak to do this, he asked Lyapunov to carry out the task. Although Balakirev had frequently extemporised his finale to Lyapunov, the latter had to write a complete movement in a way which would have been approved of by him. The result is magnificent. In December Lyapunov conducted a concert in Berlin in Balakirev’s memory, and it was Balakirev’s concerto rather than his own which was performed.

In Lyapunov’s Second Concerto, the orchestral opening is one of the most lovely in the Romantic concerto repertory. The initial version of the first theme, in the tonic key of E major, Lento ma non troppo, is immediately heard, taking us at once into the same world of exotic oriental fantasy as is to be found in the slow movement of Balakirev’s C major Symphony (1897), especially part of that movement’s second subject, which also happens to be in the same key of E major, but with certain harmonies taken from the first subject. From that starting point, however, Lyapunov has created a more memorable theme than either of Balakirev’s, though the ambience is the same. The piano joins in with delicate filigree decoration and the enchantment is complete. Here and there in the concerto there are occasional hints of the gorgeous but evil princess ‘Tamara’, portrayed in Balakirev’s symphonic poem of that name. The other two themes in Lyapunov’s concerto, different in character, are not difficult to pick out; and in the usual position, before the main development section, there is an orchestral ritornello reminiscent of material in the finale of the Balakirev symphony. In the abridged recapitulation there are rearrangements; for example, when the initial theme reappears it is not in E major, as one would expect, but in the mellow key of D flat major, played majestically on the brass and accompanied by piano embellishments – a wonderfully imaginative touch. There are many other melodic and harmonic felicities in the concerto, as well as the ubiquitous Lisztian virtuoso fireworks, proliferating into cadenzas. Early-twentieth-century avant garde Russian and French musicians will have judged that Lyapunov had little new to say in his Second Concerto. But, nearly a century later, that need not concern today’s listener, since in spite of its derivations it is a fully mature and, on its own terms, original work. And while the Lisztian cyclic structure is there to be investigated, the music-lover may wish to enjoy luxuriating in the enthralling music for its own sake. In addition, it is worth reiterating that Lyapunov’s late Romanticism is quite different from Rachmaninov’s, even if the same tricks of the trade are sometimes used.

Even more than its predecessor, the Second Concerto is concise, and in both cases this conciseness contributes greatly to their success. Full as they are of richly varied music, Lyapunov’s concerted works for piano and orchestra as a whole make a distinct and individual contribution to the repertory of the Romantic piano concerto, and the opportunity to hear them on one disc is to be warmly welcomed.

Edward Garden © 2002


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Buy by post £10.50 CDA67828 
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58 – Pixis & Thalberg' (CDA67915)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58 – Pixis & Thalberg
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67915 
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński' (CDA67958)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67958  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 60 – Dubois' (CDA67931)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 60 – Dubois
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67931  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 61' (CDA67950)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 61
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67950  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 62 – Gounod' (CDA67975)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 62 – Gounod
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67975  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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