Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, May 2011

Only last issue I waxed ecstatic about Yablonsky’s recording of Liapounov’s piano concertos and Ukrainian Rhapsody with Shorena Tsintsabadze, and already we have a splendid follow-up that will surely be welcomed by lovers of lush Russian music. Here is the heart and soul of Mother Russia writ large and played with great gusto and warmth by one of Russia’s foremost orchestras under committed leadership. Neither of these works might be casually dismissed as over-recorded—this is the only account of the Violin Concerto I know of outside of a long deleted monaural Melodiya LP.

Keith Anderson reminds us in his absorbing essay that Liapounov was a generation removed from the earlier nationalist tradition; while he remained close friends with Balakirev, he may have found it difficult to develop an individual musical style with Balakirev looking over his shoulder. Rimsky-Korsakoff found Liapounov quite lacking in originality, sometimes sounding like Balakirev, sometimes like Glazounov. No doubt you’ll hear both of them in the First Symphony. If the sonorous opening motif in the horns suggests the Second Symphony of Glazounov—and before that the Borodin—much of what follows seems as like as two peas to Balakirev’s First Symphony (begun 10 years before the Liapounov and completed ten years after), though the ingenious transformation of the horn motif into the vigorous Allegro is once again akin to the Glazounov. A poignant strain by the bass clarinet does little to abate the torrential energy that surges inexorably to a grand peroration pitting churning strings against the full force of the stentorian low brass—just like the Balakirev.

And we may think of Balakirev in the spacious and expressive cantilena that follows, opening up in the clarinet, effectively warding off the stern pronouncement by the low brass midway in that might be the grumbling of some venerable council of boyars before the strings swelling with optimism restore order—here the Andante of Glazounov’s Fifth Symphony comes to mind. The gossamer Scherzo conjures some Russian fairy revels, and the opening horn motif returns with an almost martial bearing. A yearning strain is introduced by the horn that Liapounov works up to grand effect before the mood brightens, closing out in triumph as Glazounov did so brilliantly in his later symphonies.

This is robust and hearty fare, and Yablonsky gives the symphony a big sloppy Russian bear hug worthy of his mentor Rostropovich, lavishing great affection and warmth on this often sprawling essay that in lesser hands could very easily come undone. Aided by warm, expressive playing from the strings—with spacious sonics to match—Yablonsky marshals the full force of the Russian low brass where called for. The unhurried, deeply felt Andante, here a true sostenuto, almost steals the show.

The Violin Concerto—written nearly 30 years after the symphony—clearly reinvents the one Glazounov composed nine years earlier. If anything, Liapounov summons more sinew than Glazounov, whose endless flow of melody begins to cloy after a while; but for all his energetic effort and warmth of expression he must yield to his esteemed colleague in the closing pages—they cannot match Glazounov’s highly effective “Red Square” finale. And the extended cadenza near the end—some four minutes in this performance—all but brings the festivities to a halt. Maxim Fedotov here seems entirely in his element and is warmly supported by the Russian players. They may well persuade you that this is one of the great Russian concertos. And Fedotov redeems the composer’s seemingly interminable cadenza with an impassioned, hair-trigger display that will have you hanging on every note.

Now we really need to have Liapounov’s Second Symphony from Yablonsky—it would offer stiff competition to Svetlanov’s compelling remake for Naive (July/Aug 2004).

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, May 2011

“Lyapunov seems to have been able to produce his own music only by conjuring up the ghosts of other composers,” the article about him in Grove I opines, ignoring the fact that the same accusation—a lack of originality—could be thrown at nearly every highly regarded composer from the 18th century on back, and many excellent ones in the 19th and 20th, as well. But the cult of originality is receding now, and it should be possible to more properly assess the contributions of such Russian nationalists as Lyapunov in the light of this.

His Symphony No. 1 was completed in 1887. It was written under Balakirev’s tutelage—which is to say, according to a compositional method that ingeniously fostered creativity, but brooked no disagreement, and allowed the older composer to literally make as many changes as he thought necessary to the piece in progress. (Balakirev was extremely good at this, if one could stand his manner. The hyper-sensitive Tchaikovsky did, twice, and the final versions of Romeo and Juliet and Manfred are to some extent joint compositions.) There are numerous points especially in the lyrical slow movement that recall harmonic progressions in Balakirev’s own First Symphony, and his excellent Piano Sonata No. 2, completed in 1905, but largely written much earlier. Lyapunov’s work is a strong example of its genre. It’s filled with bright and haunting melodies, refined wit, strong, danceable folk rhythms, and the occasional harmonic twist: a folk symphony embroidered in glowing primary colors. Anyone who enjoys Borodin’s symphonic output should find plenty of pleasure in it.

The Violin Concerto is a product of Lyapunov’s post-Balakirev years, being completed in 1915, and revised in 1921. It is a curious composition, with distinctive thematic content whose harmonic adventurousness recalls Glazunov’s Eighth Symphony, and the torso of his incomplete Ninth, though some of the connective tissue is Tchaikovsky at his most formulaic. The work is a highly keyed, elegiac piece, three uninterrupted movements cleverly based on variations of the same material. The last section fails to live up to the intensity of the rest, but in the right soloist’s hands, this piece could become a popular favorite and an excellent way to show off qualities of tone.

Dmitri Yablonsky is certainly more committed in the symphony than Sinaisky/BBC Phil (Chandos 9808). The latter has the edge and then some on orchestral sonority, blend, and intonation, but Yablonsky gets more commitment from his Russian performers in this music, along with a rough vitality that makes the symphony’s finale work especially well. What’s missing here is the kind of shading to tempo, the fine details of phrasing, that the current leading exponent among conductors of Russian nationalism, Serebrier, achieves.

…a good way to become acquainted with a pair of interesting works by a composer who deserves better than relegation to the back shelf because he made fine music, instead of trying to be different.

Martin Cotton
BBC Music Magazine, April 2011

If you have a soft spot for the late-Romantic violin concerto, you’ll enjoy Lyapunov’s. Like the far better known one by his near contemporary Glazunov, it’s in a single movement, with a variety of sections and moods, and begins in a very similar vein, with a solo theme which is a close relative…Maxim Fedotov does produce a rich sound from his instrument, and there’s rarely a sense of strain on the more virtuoso writing., March 2011

Violinists seeking outlets for their virtuosity, and willing to go beyond the standard repertoire, have an unusually wide array of choices nowadays, as interest rises in long-forgotten but often very worthy violin concertos and other works that provide opportunities for both subtleties of technique and fireworks. Sergey Lyapunov’s very well-made Violin Concerto (1915, revised 1921) gives Maxim Fedotov plenty of chances to show his mettle, and gives listeners many opportunities to hear Tchaikovskian romanticism: some lovely themes, considerable challenges in passage work, and unceasing demands on the violinist for beauty of tone combined with impeccable phrasing. A single-movement work, this concerto effectively alternates sections that wear their heart quite deliberately on their collective sleeve, as shown in Liapunov’s tempo indications, such as Allegro appassionato and Un poco più tranquillo. The concerto is not especially distinguished in form (it takes after Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1), but it has lovely melodies and effective display passages, and Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic handle the broadly sketched orchestral sections very well indeed. They also do a fine job with Lyapunov’s Symphony No. 1, an early work (dating to 1887, when the composer was 28) that includes some interesting horn writing, well-handled rhythmic changes and a certain level of grandiosity that echoes Tchaikovsky—even though the work was less influenced by him than by Mily Balakirev, who always had a major effect on Lyapunov and who actually had a hand in the creation of the symphony.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, March 2011

Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov (1859–1924) was a Russian nationalist composer who studied with Balakirev and remained strongly influenced by him. His Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.61 is a one-movement work that sounds exactly as you would expect: big, Tchaikovsky-like melodies, a Romantic flow and a dazzling solo part. Maxim Fedotov is in superb form, with excellent support from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky. The latter are also terrific in Lyapunov’s Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op.12.

B.A. Nilsson
Metroland Online (Albany, NY), February 2011

LYAPUNOV, S.M.: Violin Concerto / Symphony No. 1 (Fedotov, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky) 8.570462
LYAPUNOV, S.M.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes (Tsintsabadze, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky) 8.570783

The young Prokofiev, a student in St Petersburg, noted that one his professors, Sergey Lyapunov, was nicknamed “St Serge…referring to his exceptional piety and the nobility of his countenance.” Lyapunov was by 1913 quite the old guard in Prokofiev’s eyes, but subsequent mentions in the student’s diary were filled with respect—unusual for the otherwise snide, often snotty Prokofiev.

Most of Lyapunov’s music fell by the wayside. After all, there were Rimsky-Korsakoff and Tchaikovsky for the old school, Rachmaninoff representing the last hurrah of the romantics, and Stravinsky already shaking things up.

So these two new releases from Naxos give us works that have no grounding in familiarity and distinguish themselves, on initial listenings, as much by who they remind me of as by the charm of the pieces themselves.

And they are charming in a broad, sweeping, brassy way. Listen to Lyapunov spin out his ideas in the first movement of his first movement and, sure, you’ll think Tchaikovsky. Four noble brass chords; a subservient answer from the strings. And again. And then the melody rolls out, slowly, portentously, soon hitting a Brahmsian passage of winds over plucked violins.

Which is not to deny the composer his own identity, but I always look for something to cling to when wandering in the unfamiliar. If anything, that movement soon presents a picture of Lyapunov as a bit of the anti-Tchaikovsky, resisting the other’s habit of never letting a good tune go, developing his material in fascinating ways. If the scherzo is pure Peter Illyich, then the slow second movement has Sibelius in its ears.

There’s no possible way to avoid comparing Lyapunov’s single-movement Violin Concerto to the one written 10 years before by Glazunov, but this one culminates in a long and fiery cadenza before its short wrap-up, and has to be as much fun to perform as to listen to.

The mantle of Liszt hangs over the works for piano and orchestra, although it’s Liszt by way of Rachmaninoff. Again, both concertos are single-movement, episodic works with a good deal of virtuoso passagework, and the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, which puts to use folk material that was always one of the composer’s interests.

Both discs feature the Russian Philharmonic (actually, the Moscow City Symphony) conducted by Moscow-born, Yale-educated Dmitry Yablonsky, and the forces sound excellent. Likewise, violinist Maxim Fedotov and pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze bring amazing chops to bear on the solo parts, reminding us that such talent isn’t always in the major local concert halls.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2011

Sergey Lyapunov’s career formed part of that largely forgotten group of Russian composers sandwiched between the romanticism of the Tchaikovsky era, and the hard-hitting modernism of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His credentials were impeccable, having studied with Taneyev and Tchaikovsky, but then seemed incapable of moving forward with the times. It is a story told so many times, and if only we could ignore eras and simply take music at face value, then Lyapunov has much to offer, not least the quality of his orchestration. Think of it as a Borodin symphony and you will admire the score’s engaging melodic invention tinged with Russian nationalism. The spacious opening movement is characterised by heavy brass interjections and the decorative quality of the woodwind writing, but he would have been well advised to place the scherzo second to inject a change of tempo, the typically soulful Andante coming too soon after the first movement’s extended Andantino. When the scherzo does arrive it has all the lightness of a feather, instruments chattering quietly among themselves. The finale is a clone of a big Tchaikovsky ballet scene, strutting around in grandiose gestures. Given performances that really believe in the quality of the score, he may yet have its day. In its final form the Violin Concerto was completed just three years before Lyapunov’s death in 1924. Maxim Fedotov lavishes the full spectrum of his generous vibrato on a score offering the soloist ample opportunity to display technical prowess. More Bruch than Tchaikovsky, its one-movement format produces such a loose structure, the frequent mood swings punctuated by a display cadenza and a brilliant final section. Dmitry Yablonsky directs an orchestra that retains many qualities we fondly remember in Russian ensembles of yesteryear.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, February 2011

Once again, Dmitry Yablonsky, at the helm of the Russian Philharmonic, weighs in on the side of the neglected music of Sergei Lyapunov. Neglected, did I say? Well, the composer’s Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op. 12 and his Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 61, in which violin soloist Maxim Fedotov lends his distinguished artistry to the proceedings, have each been preceded in the record listings only once before—by Vassili Sinaisky on Chandos for the former and Julian Sitkovetsky (Artek) for the latter.

What neglect that was can be gauged from the opening bars of the Violin Concert, a mature work that has the gorgeous melodies, the high energy, and the romantic sweep that we have come to expect of a Russian concerto. It is a single-movement work in an unusual form. Three distinct melodies, the first marked Allegro appassionato with brilliant solo passagework, the second an expressive Russian melody marked Un poco piu tranquillo, and the third, Scherzando, with lots of figuration and scope for technical display by the violinist, are presented and developed. Then, we have an expressive Adagio, with the melody entrusted to the soloist, and the three themes are reprised again in apple pie order. This is followed by a cadenza and a thrilling final section marked Piu mosso, agitato (less lively, agitated). Throughout the concerto, Fedotov plays with considerable expression and style, and Yablonsky shows himself the ideal collaborator from the podium.

The Symphony, an early exercise in that form written when the 28-year-old Lyapunov was very much influenced by the Russian National School and in particular its founder and his mentor, Mily Balakirev, is a bold, full-bodied work in four movements, filled with the ardor of youth. That ardor can be heard in the proclamation of the main theme by the four horns in the opening movement, the warmly expressive second movement, marked Andante sostenuto, and the lively Scherzo, marked Allegretto vivace, that sounds to my ears like a village harvest celebration. All these movements have attractive folk-like melodies, in keeping with the nationalist aims that inspired Lyapunov and his generation. The finale is bold and decisive, making us wonder once again where Sergei Lyapunov has been all our lives?

James Manheim, February 2011

Sergey Lyapunov was part of the generation of mostly lightly nationalist Russian composers trained by the Mighty Handful, in this case Mily Balakirev. Before long he became better known as a pianist than as a composer, and most of his music was forgotten. But the Naxos label has specialized in finding the nuggets among the gravel, and they’ve come up with one herein Lyapunov’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 61. The work was composed in 1915, toward the end of his life, and apparently reflects a process in which he left some of his more generic Russian late Romantic influences behind. The chief attraction is in the violin writing, which is highly idiomatic despite the fact that the violin wasn’t Lyapunov’s instrument. The solo part is dense and extraordinarily difficult, suggesting a transfer of the Lisztian language of Lyapunov’s piano concertos to the violin; the dense figuration breaks off only for ultra-sensuous romantic melody. Russian violinist Maxim Fedotov does the work justice with a vigorous, slashing performance that does not flag in the giant cadenza at the end of the work’s single movement. It’s a bit surprising that more famous contemporary violinists of the Russian school haven’t trotted this piece out; it’s of moderate length, and it would make an ideal concert opener. But apparently Fedotov’s is the only version currently available, and it’s entirely satisfying. The Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op. 12, completed in 1887, is much less fun; it is competently orchestrated but never seems to break out of the walls it constructs around itself. Still, the recording-oriented Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky is consistent, and Russian music lovers will want the concerto in their collections.

David Hurwitz, January 2011

Listening to relentlessly derivative, unoriginal music such as this really enhances your appreciation for the great stuff. Still, there’s quite a bit here to enjoy. Sergey Lyapunov’s Violin Concerto, in one continuous movement—just like his two piano concertos, actually has more melodic appeal than either of those two works. It may be that as a pianist writing for the violin he was less concerned with filling the solo part with flashy figuration, and instead opted to emphasize his music’s natural lyricism. The result is lovely, despite a massive solo cadenza that goes on way too long, and it’s very beautifully played by Maxim Fedotov who captures the music’s tuneful freshness without ever letting it turn sticky.

Symphony No. 1, on the other hand, reveals the composer’s weaknesses in writing in large forms. The first movement especially seems to go on forever as Lyapunov dutifully works his way through the obligatory sonata form. Once that’s out of the way, matters improve, and there’s no questioning the confidence of Dmitry Yablonsky and his players in music that neither taxes them terribly nor challenges them (or us). It’s pretty and enjoyable in a generic, Russian fashion, and like the Violin Concerto, well recorded. For the latter work especially, this is worth considering.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, January 2011

I must admit from the outset that the work of Lyapunov has remained beneath my radar. This is a pity because I was delighted to discover so much to admire on the evidence of this CD.

Born at Yaroslavl in 1859, Lyapunov studied first in Moscow—including a brief period with Tchaikovsky—before he moved on to St Petersburg where he became associated with Balakirev. Lyapunov tended to be overshadowed by this association and the strength of the influence of Balakirev is at once clear from the opening pages of Lyapunov’s First Piano Concerto, which was dedicated to that composer. This First Piano Concerto may seem derivative and not especially inventive, but it is nevertheless very melodious and most pleasing to the ear. The beguilingly lyrical piano writing is matched by an attractive, colourful orchestral accompaniment, noble, heroic and wistfully romantic. Tsintsabadze brings to bear a light and delicate poetic touch with unbridled passion reserved for the Concerto’s climactic passages. This, together with Yablonsky’s staunch accompaniment, proves this music is well worth exploring.

The Second Piano Concerto, again a single-movement work, was written 19 years or so after the First. This too is tuneful, heroic and accessible. It begins quietly and wistfully with delicate piano ornamentation and tranquil orchestral comment. This is a richly romantic work with melodies that yearn softly then passionately, proceeding to passagework that is fiercely defiant.

The pleasing Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes begins with some evocative, pastoral woodwind writing. The piano ripples over string material that sounds derivative of Rachmaninov although the original source could well be folk material used by both composers. The general influence of Liszt is more apparent in this work. Again melody predominates. There is a grateful part for the piano with glistening runs and sparkling arabesques. The patriotic assertions are made more thrilling by full symphony perorations.

On this evidence I will be looking out for more music by Lyapunov: his Symphonies, Violin Concerto and other works.

Melodious and colourful music. Derivative? Perhaps, but so what when it is delivered with such verve.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, September 2010

Sergei Lyapunov’s Violin Concerto is a real gem, and I say this as a skeptic of obscure romantic concertos...This really is something else: a twenty-three-minute, one-movement work with a gorgeous solo part, big tunes, high energy, emotional Russian-romantic sweep, and a simply terrific cadenza. Imagine a Borodin violin concerto, or Max Bruch as a Muscovite, and you’ll have the idea. The violin enters immediately with the intriguingly moody main tune, Maxim Fedotov’s playing rich and boldly romantic; the major-key second subject is just as lovely, and reminds me of Brahms. Fedotov gets more opportunity to show off his considerable chops and delicious tone as the concerto moves into a slower section of lyrical tune-weaving; I really savor the interplay between violin, flute and harp after 9:36. Then we have a return to the main material and, before the exhilarating finish, a challenging cadenza with adventurous harmonics and double-stops.

This concerto has everything: high drama, gorgeous love music (14:40), a playful scherzo section, and a keen sense of just how beautiful an instrument the violin can be. This is now my favorite work by Sergei Lyapunov, and I could easily rank it alongside the likes of Vieuxtemps’ Fifth or the concertos of Wieniawski and Glazunov. It’s easy to imagine a performance in which the violin is miked more realistically, or in which the various sections of the work fit together more coherently. But this is—incredibly!—the only readily available recording of the concerto, Maxim Fedotov sounds like he is having the time of his life, and until Gil Shaham tackles the piece you simply need to hear this.

The First Symphony, written in 1887, I got to know in Evgeny Svetlanov’s performance from the Anthology of Russian Symphony Music. This symphony predates the concerto by nearly three decades, lacks its conciseness, but has the classic Russian romantic form: a short horn call at the opening provides the theme for the dramatic first movement, drama gives way to a lovely slow movement, and folk elements drive the light scherzo and blazingly triumphant finale...Dmitry Yablonsky has nearly as good an orchestra, and just as idiomatically Russian (the French horn even wobbles a bit), in better sound and with more prominent lower brass. He also has a more moderate tempo in the outer movements, which benefits the work in places like the introduction and the biggest climaxes, which are a blur—albeit a thrilling, hair-raising blur—under Svetlanov...Yablonsky does take the slow movement more quickly than his competition...partly because the music really does sound good this way. It has a lovely sense of flow and good cheer, and the climax is utterly lovely. The woodwinds get a work-out in the scherzo, which surprisingly has an almost Mendelssohnian lightness, if Mendelssohn had studied with Glinka. The finale leads to a satisfying conclusion...All this is captured in what seems to be good sound...Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic have nothing to be ashamed of here, a few great solos to applaud themselves for, and a lovely slow movement to savor. Besides, unless you have a hard-to-find old disc featuring soloist Yulian Sitkovetsky, this is your only chance to hear the superb violin concerto. Fans of the Russian romantics, and lovers of great violin music, should not hesitate.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group