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Petite suite

for solo piano

Borodin was happiest when writing in small-scale forms. Just as his earliest compositions were chamber works and piano miniatures, so he enjoyed returning to these genres during the last years of his life. Among the works of this final period are the Petite suite and the Scherzo in A flat, both dating from 1885. In its original form, the Petite suite comprises seven numbers for piano solo, to which Borodin attached a programme entitled 'Petit Poème d’Amour d’une Jeune Fille':

Sous la voûte de la cathédrale
On rêve à la société
On ne pense qu’à la danse
On pense à la danse et le danseur
On ne pense qu’au danseur
On rêve au chant d’amour
On est bercée par le bonheur d’être aimée
La cathédrale
Doux rêve.
Beneath the vault of the cathedral
One dreams of high society
One thinks of nothing but the dance
One thinks of the dance and the dancer
One thinks only of the dancer
One dreams of the song of love
One is rocked by the happiness of being loved
The cathedral
Sweet dream.

That this programme alludes to an amorous episode in Borodin’s life, even his wife was forced to acknowledge in her memoirs. The composer’s remarks on the proof sheets of the various movements can easily be linked to the text of the poem:

Au couvent—The sound of cathedral bells and a Russian Orthodox Church chant.
Intermezzo—One starts dreaming of society life.
Mazurka rustique—The young lady begins to think of the dance.
Mazurka—One dreams of the dance … and the dancer. (The dancer of the young lady’s fantasy was undoubtedly the composer himself. Not only was Borodin a good dancer, Glazunov recalls, but he excelled in the Mazurka. Furthermore, the suggestion of the cello that is evoked through the piano’s tenor line is a clear reminder that Borodin was an able cellist.)
Rêverie—One no longer dreams of anything but the dancer; new feelings.
Sérénade—(Though no remarks appear on the proof sheets, this is evidently intended to represent the young lady’s 'song of love'. The principal theme is marked amoroso ed espressivo.)
Nocturne (designated Berceuse in the original manuscript)—One is rocked by the happiness of being loved.

Glazunov’s orchestration was completed in 1889. In this recording, the Intermezzo is omitted but Glazunov’s interpolation of Borodin’s Scherzo in A flat, which creates two outer flanks to frame the Nocturne, is preserved. Whilst it may disrupt the idea of Borodin’s original programme, it does meet a clear and, one might argue, deeper need of an orchestral piece: a Finale which is fast, lively and thoroughly engaging.

from notes by Philip Taylor © 2020


Borodin: Requiem & other works
SIGCD2094Download only


No 1: Au couvent
No 2: Mazurka
No 2: Mazurka rustique
No 4: Rêverie
No 5: Sérénade
No 6: Finale: Scherzo – Nocturne – Scherzo

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