Mili Balakirev (1837–1910), godfather to a whole generation of Russian composers, was an excellent pianist, sight-reader and improviser (though the demands of his best-known work, Islamey
, still one of the most technically challenging pieces in the repertoire, were apparently beyond him). Chopin’s music had an incalculable influence on his own piano compositions, many of which bear Chopinesque titles (mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes, scherzos and even a piano sonata in B flat minor). He made an arrangement for string orchestra (published in 1904) of Chopin’s Mazurka No 7, and a transcription for solo piano (1905) of the second movement (Romanza) of the E minor Piano Concerto; he also re-orchestrated and partly re-wrote the entire concerto in 1910, and produced a four-movement Chopin Suite for orchestra in 1909. In 1907 he was persuaded by his friend Konstantin Tchernov to write down his improvisation on two of Chopin’s Op 28 Preludes, one of many works Balakirev had kept in his head for some years without getting around to notating. The result was the Impromptu on the themes of two Preludes by Chopin, the models being Preludes No 11 in B major and No 14 in E flat minor. In the latter, Chopin’s quaver triplets in C are transformed into semiquaver triplet groups in 12/16, later reassembled in octave figurations for alternate hands to bravura effect. The contrast between this and the gentle B major section, linked by a barely perceptible modulation, is satisfyingly effective because of the subtle thematic relationship between the two Chopin originals. Balakirev rouses the player in the final page to a triple forte passage marked delirando (‘deliriously’).
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2010