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Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major, Op 4
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.

from notes by Edward Garden © 2002

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Details for CDA67326 track 1
Allegro con brio
Recording date
14 June 2002
Recording venue
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Lyapunov: Piano Concertos (CDA67326)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: October 2002
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