Lyapunov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Also, Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes. Shorena Tsintsabadze, piano; Dmitry Yablonsky, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.570783.

Another name I'd never heard of.

So, who is Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov? He was a Russian composer (1859-1924) "strongly influenced," as the album jacket notes, "by Mily Balakirev, leader of the 'Mighty Handful'" of Russian nationalist composers who dominated Russian composition for a time. People probably know Lyapunov best for his two symphonies and for the three pieces recorded here: the two piano concertos and the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes.

The program begins with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat minor, Op. 4 (1890), performed by Georgian pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze, with the familiar conductor and cellist Dmitry Yablonsky leading the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra (originally a recording ensemble made up from leading members of Russia's most-famous orchestras and now often a separate entity unto itself). The concerto is in a single, twenty-two-minute movement, although it follows a traditional arrangement of alternating sections. It's quite Romantic in nature, with big, boisterous segments and typically lyrical ones; yet it doesn't contain anything particularly remarkable or memorable. In other words, it's enjoyable while you're listening to it but just as easily forgotten.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in E major, Op. 38 (1909) is a more formidable affair. It, too, is in a single movement, this time slightly shorter and more concise. It opens with a long, gently flowing theme, quite attractive and bucolic, which emphasizes Ms. Tsintsabadze's delicate virtuosity more than anything else on the disc. Following this opening section is a good deal more ornamentation by the soloist in segments that continuously transition from slow to fast to slow, with cadenzas galore. It's almost too much of a good thing, finally leading to hints of Tchaikovsky and Liszt. Although there is a lot to like in the work, it probably goes in too many different directions to connect with every listener.

The program concludes with the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes for piano and orchestra (1907), a piece in rondo form with a pleasant pastoral theme returning several times, interspersed with a few country dances. Frankly, I enjoyed this music with its exotic Rimsky-Korsakov overtones as much as anything on the album, not only for the endless tunes but for Ms. Tsintsabadze's sensitive playing and Maestro Yablonsky's alert direction.

Naxos recorded this 2010 release in Studio 5 of the Russian State TV and Radio Company, Moscow, in March of 2008. While the imagery lacks depth, it does spread out nicely between the speakers, and the slightly soft sonics are smooth and pleasant on the ear. The piano may be a tad too close, but transparency, dynamics, and frequency response are more than adequate, with some satisfying bass thumps along the way.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa