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Piano Concerto No 2 in E major, Op 38
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.

from notes by Edward Garden © 2002

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Details for CDA67326 track 12
Allegro moderato
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 12
    Release date: October 2002
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