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8.570783 - LYAPUNOV, S.M.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes (Tsintsabadze, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)

Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov (1859–1924)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 • Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes


Born at Yaroslavl in 1859, the son of a mathematician and astronomer, Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov had his early music lessons with his mother. On the death of his father, he moved with his mother to Nizhny-Novgorod and in 1873 began study at the local branch of the Russian Musical Society there. In 1878 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he was a composition pupil of Sergey Taneyev and briefly of Tchaikovsky, before the latter’s resignation, when his place was taken by Nikolay Gubert. His piano lessons were with Pabst and with Liszt’s pupil, Klindworth, an important influence on his subsequent career. After completing his studies of composition and piano and a brief period earning his living by teaching, he moved to St Petersburg where he became associated with Mily Balakirev, the self-appointed leader of the Russian nationalist group of composers. The effect of this tended to isolate Lyapunov not only from the rival circle of Belyayev, but also from younger composers who were now exploring very different musical territory. In 1893 he was commissioned, with Balakirev and Lyadov, to collect folk-songs in the Vologda, Vyatka and Kostroma regions, a project that resulted in a collection of three hundred songs, for thirty of which Lyapunov provided a piano accompaniment. From 1894 to 1902 he served as deputy director of the imperial chapel, his tolerance tested finally beyond endurance by Arensky, who had succeeded Balakirev as director in 1894, and from 1905 was director of Balakirev’s Free School of Music. He undertook the completion of the last movement of Balakirev’s unfinished Piano Concerto in E flat major after the latter’s death in 1910. The following year he gave up his position at the Free Music School, which had been dwindling in importance for some time, and joined the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he taught until 1917. In 1919 he joined the State Institute of Art, but his attempts, after the Revolution, to adapt to the ways of the new regime proved unsuccessful. After time partly spent abroad, in 1923 he settled definitively in Paris. Until his sudden death a year later he directed a music school there for Russian émigrés.

Lyapunov belonged to that second generation of Russian nationalist composers able to benefit from the professional training offered by the Conservatories and from the Russian sources of inspiration explored by Balakirev and his associates. His close association with Balakirev allowed the latter to exercise an influence that was not always for the best, and after Balakirev’s death Lyapunov was able to experience a brief period of freedom as a composer. His orchestral compositions include two symphonies, symphonic poems, two piano concertos, a violin concerto and a Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes for piano and orchestra. Other works include songs and piano music, genres in which his achievement is more considerable.

Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat minor, Op. 4, was written in 1890 and published two years later. It was first performed in 1891 at a Free Music School concert, conducted by Balakirev, to whom it is dedicated, and in November 1904 was among the works awarded the Glinka Prize, established by the will of Belyayev and his executors, Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Glazunov. The other works receiving the award were Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Scriabin’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 3 and 4 and Taneyev’s Symphony in C minor. Two years earlier Rimsky- Korsakov had suggested that Lyapunov’s music, though very noble, was almost completely lacking in originality, sometimes Balakirev and sometimes Glazunov. Balakirev certainly had a part to play in the composition of Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 1, both in the suggestions he made to the composer while the work was being written and even in final adjustments. The concerto, like Liszt’s Second Concerto, is in one movement. Marked Allegro con brio, the orchestra starts with a well defined and very Russian theme in E flat minor, proclaimed in octaves and followed by a second thematic element that modulates to the relative major of G flat. This material is developed before the entry of the soloist, Capriccioso, with a version of the first thematic element, leading to an expanded version of the second more lyrical theme, with the initial motif never far away. A modulation to B minor leads to an Andantino, followed by a D major Adagio non tanto, the equivalent of a slow movement, with a related melody. A modulation to B flat brings back the more lyrical element of the first thematic material, now Allegro moderato e maestoso, followed by the well defined opening thematic element, eventually re-establishing for the moment the key of E flat minor, before a shift in key and the return of the soloist’s entry, Capriccioso. The Adagio non tanto returns and a short cadenza leads to the return of the orchestral Allegro con brio opening. The second thematic element, now Poco meno mosso, Grandioso, brings the awaited modulation to E flat major and a triumphant conclusion.

Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in E major, Op. 38, was completed in 1909 and published the following year. The principal theme of what is broadly a sonata-form movement is heard at once from the orchestra, with the direction Lento ma non troppo, to be ornamented by the delicate tracery of the soloist, who moves on to a further version of the theme. The first of a number of cadenza-like passages in this single-movement concerto leads to a shift of key from E major to an Allegro molto ed appassionato with a further cadenza and a romantic third thematic element, an A flat major Allegro moderato, with the soloist’s melody coupled with gentle comments from the cellos. An elaborate cadenza is followed by an orchestral Allegro molto, the material developed by the soloist and modulating back to E major. The piano adds virtuoso embellishment to the returning principal theme in a Lento ma non troppo, now in D flat major, shifting back to E major and the return of the Allegro molto. A piano cadenza is succeeded by a return of the Allegro moderato, now in E major, with a further cadenza followed by the return of the Allegro molto and an exciting final section, bringing spectacular double glissandos for the soloist and the conclusion of a work that well deserves a place in the canon of romantic concertos.

The Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 28, was completed in 1907, to be published the following year, and was first performed in 1909 with the composer as soloist. It is dedicated to Ferruccio Busoni and reflects, as in the concertos, the influence of Liszt, particularly in the virtuoso piano writing, a feature embodied in Lyapunov’s Douze études d’exécution transcendante. In the form of a rondo, the Rhapsody, which is in F sharp minor, starts with a gentle theme marked Andantino pastorale. A brief cadenza leads to the second theme, Allegretto scherzando and starting in B flat minor. The Andantino pastorale returns, to be followed by the third theme, a Cossack dance, an F sharp major Allegro giocoso. The opening theme eventually makes its way back, presented now in a more grandiose form, as the work comes to an end.

Keith Anderson

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