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Hyperion Records

APR5620 - Lyapunov: 12 Études d'exécution transcendante
Recording details: Various dates
Abbey Road Studios, London, United Kingdom
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 71 minutes 46 seconds

12 Études d'exécution transcendante
Berceuse  [4'21]  recorded 7 March 1939
Berceuse  [4'11]  recorded 29 December 1949
Ronde des fantômes  [3'03]  recorded 29 December 1949
Carillon  [6'11]  recorded 29 December 1949
Térek  [3'40]  recorded 29 December 1949
Nuit d'été  [7'51]  recorded 29 December 1949
Tempête  [4'02]  recorded 29 December 1949
Idylle  [4'30]  recorded 29 December 1949
Chant épique  [7'39]  recorded 29 December 1949
Harpes éoliennes  [4'46]  recorded 29 December 1949
Lesginka  [6'44]  recorded 29 December 1949
Ronde des sylphes  [3'48]  recorded 29 December 1949
Élégie en mémoire de François Liszt  [11'00]  recorded 29 December 1949

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov (1859–1924) was the last important pupil of Balakirev and came from the second group of composers that Balakirev gathered round him (the first being known as ‘The Mighty Handful’). Lyapunov’s earlier influences had been Tchaikovsky and Sergey Taneyev, with whom he had studied at the Moscow Conservatoire from 1889–93. Taneyev was famed for his knowledge of counterpoint and this bore fruit in Lyapunov’s case with his large fugues for piano. Balakirev’s influence is evident in Lyapunov’s harmonic colouring and key choices.

The 12 Etudes d’Exécution Transcendante Op.11 are Lyapunov’s best known works and date from 1897 to 1905. They were published by Zimmermann individually as they were composed before being collected in two volumes with the gold-lettered inscription ‘À la Mémoire vénérée de François Liszt. Hommage de l’auteur’. Lyapunov’s intention was to complete the tonalities of Liszt’s 12 Etudes d’Exécution Transcendantes using the remaining sharp keys. While the influence of Liszt in the piano writing is obvious there is, inevitably, also a strong Russian flavour. Henselt, the German composer-pianist who spent much of his life in Russia and whose writing shows itself in both Balakirev’s and Lyapunov’s extended arpeggios, was a further influence.

Berceuse: This gem, which was published before Balakirev’s equally beautiful Berceuse, is built from two melodic fragments. As the choice of key was restricted to a sharp key it cannot pay homage to Chopin as does Balakirev’s morceau.

Ronde des fantômes uses material from Lyapunov’s early days at the Moscow Conservatoire and has many wide extensions à la Henselt. In the earliest printing of the score there is a passage in double notes (a passing reference to Liszt’s Feux follets?) which was simplified in order that it became more in keeping with the rest of the piece.

Carillon: Lyapunov’s own programme in the original edition is as follows:

In the distance is heard the ringing of a bell across the measured stroke of which comes the sound of a hymn. The ringing grows louder and louder and the church chimes blend with the sound of the principal bell. The solemn tones of the hymn alternate with the sounds of the bells ending in a general majestic choral effect interspersed with the deep sounds of the great bell.

Needless to say, this introduction was omitted from the 1947 edition published by the Russian State Publishing House.

Térek: This is a vivid description of the river Terek as portrayed in Lermontov’s poem Dari Tereka which is quoted at the head of the music. The stormy course of the river is broken by a gentler scherzando episode marked quasi flauto and later quasi piccolo. The melody of this section could easily derive from a folk song. (Lyapunov did use folk song in his Festival Overture Op.7, published by Jurgenson with a striking multi-coloured title page, maybe in the hope that it would enjoy some of the success of that other Jurgenson publication—also with a magnificent title page—Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.)

Nuit d’été: In spite of its position in the set, Nuit d’été provides more of a centre of repose than the ensuing Idylle. It is a protracted nocturne in which Lyapunov makes use of sequence and imitation.

Tempête: A storm which has much of the surging torrent of Térek about it but without any respite.

Idylle: This is the first of the second book of études and, as with the Berceuse in book one, lulls the gifted amateur into thinking that what lies ahead cannot be too difficult.

Chant épique: Here Lyapunov uses Orthodox church music and folk song sources, the latter being Front out of the wood, the dark wood from his own collection of folk songs Op.10. The arpeggios in the introduction are marked to be played armonioso imitante salterio.

Harpes éoliennes: A rather gentle tribute to Liszt’s Chasse-Neige. The shimmering accompaniment balances the beautiful, if somewhat cloying, melody perfectly.

Lesginka: The best known and most performed of these studies, maybe on account of its subtitle Style Balakirev and its obvious association with Islamey.

Ronde des sylphes has much in common pianistically with Liszt’s Feux follets. While lacking the obvious genius of Liszt’s invention it is, nevertheless, a most successful descriptive piece.

Elégie en mémoire de François Liszt: This, the largest of the études, opens with a quotation from Liszt’s First Hungarian Rhapsody marked All’ungarese, in modo funebre. The middle section is distinguished by one of Lyapunov’s finest melodies, in D flat—one of Balakirev’s and Lyapunov’s favourite keys. This melody returns in heroic style in the coda which presages a conclusion of great virtuosity.

Even in Russia performances of Lyapunov’s works have been invariably few. Ricardo Vines performed the two Glinka arrangements made for him but appears to have been more interested in having Balakirev write a piano concerto for him. Josef Hofmann played Lyapunov’s first piano concerto at the famous five concerts of Russian music given in Paris, 1907, with Nikisch conducting. (Hofmann was paid 5000 francs by Diaghilev to play both the Lyapunov and Scriabin concertos.) In 1909 Hofmann played the Lyapunov concerto in St. Petersburg with the composer conducting (badly, according to Hofmann’s wife). Hofmann’s reward was the dedication of the composer’s second piano concerto. Lesginka was the only solo piece that entered the repertoire—even Clara Haskil performed it during her early days.

As for recordings of Lyapunov’s music, these were sparse until the arrival of this pioneering Kentner set. Lyapunov himself made piano rolls of Etudes Nos. 1, 5 and 12 for Welte in 1910. The roll of No. 12 is particularly fine with Lyapunov double-dotting all’ungerese where the score indicates single dotted rhythms. For the same medium Vera Timanoff recorded the first étude and Vladimir Drosdoff the third. Kentner’s earlier recording of the Berceuse and Brailowsky’s of Lesginka appear to have been the first disc recordings of Lyapunov’s music. In the 1960s Melodiya issued a recital by Boris Zhilinsky, who studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire with Lyapunov and Balakirev, which included the Chant épique and Lesginka.

One would like to think that the Maharaja of Mysore’s sponsorship of Kentner’s first complete recording of these etudes and the Balakirev Sonata, both recorded in 1949, was as a result of hearing the pianist’s earlier recordings of Lyapunov’s Berceuse and Balakirev’s Rêverie, 6th Mazurka and Islamey. As always, particularly in his 78 recordings, Kentner overcomes the music’s immense difficulties with amazing ease. As he once said to a pupil, ‘Why play a wrong note when the correct one is next to it.’

For further reading, may I recommend Richard Beattie Davis’s appreciation of Lyapunov’s piano works in The Music Review of August 1960.

Malcolm Binns © 2001

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