Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews


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

Naxos 8.570783, October 2014
   MusicWeb International, June 2011
   Fanfare, May 2011, April 2011
   Turok’s Choice, April 2011
   American Record Guide, March 2011
   Audio Video Club of Atlanta, February 2011
   Metroland Online (Albany, NY), February 2011
   MusicWeb International, February 2011
   Gramophone, February 2011
   MusicWeb International, February 2011
   Classical Candor, January 2011, January 2011, January 2011
   Classical Net, January 2011
   Film Music: The Neglected Art, December 2010

English        French        German        Japanese        Spanish
See latest reviews of other albums..., October 2014

Both concertos are excellently played on this recording by the young Georgian pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky. Lyapunov’s well-crafted music, with its colourful and imaginative orchestration, shows him to be one of the most talented nationalist composers of his time. Highly recommended. © 2014 Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, June 2011

Having reviewed the Arensky and Balakirev concertos from Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic I was impatient to hear their Lyapunov. As with so many composers trapped in another’s shadow—in this case that of Balakirev—the mentor’s passing would pay artistic dividends. The three works on this disc precede Balakirev’s death in 1910 so one might expect a degree of imitation born of admiration and undue influence. Indeed, Lyapunov went on to complete his master’s Second Piano Concerto which, like his own, is also in the key of E.

Yablonsky’s pianist, Moscow-born Shorena Tsintsabadze, certainly makes the most of her opening flourishes. That comes after a slightly ragged orchestral introduction, but then the Russian Philharmonic’s playing does settle down after a while, the strings especially ardent. In the main the piano sound is perfectly acceptable, despite a bright edge to the extreme treble, most noticeable in the work’s many declamatory passages. As for the orchestra, there’s a brazen, somewhat overdriven quality to the tuttis that rather suits the all-or-nothing nature of this most extrovert concerto. That helter-skelter finale does push players and engineers to the limit though, earlier warmth and weight supplanted by fatiguing brightness. A pity, as this is an otherwise entertaining piece, enthusiastically presented.

Thank goodness for the soothing balm that is the introduction to the second concerto. This is altogether a less febrile work, and one soon registers a much wider range of orchestral colours. Tsintsabadze has a persuasive musical personality, and I really warmed to her playing in the work’s more inward moments. As for the Russian brass, they’re characteristically imprecise at times, but that bothers me much less than the piano’s tendency to jangle in the frequent climaxes, not to mention the ill-defined bass. Not so pronounced if you’re listening to a compressed MP3 on a packed rush-hour train, but much less desirable on a half-decent domestic stereo. As I mentioned in my Arensky review, this hard-working conductor and his forces seem to be on the musical equivalent of a fast-moving conveyor belt, a process that doesn’t always yield the most refined results.

That said, these concertos are worth exploring…As for the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes it has a raw energy that is most arresting; what a shame the recording is equally so, notably in that riotous finale Despite the super-budget price tag Naxos can—and does—do better than this, so I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the curiosity value of these works outweighs their technical shortfalls. No such ambivalence about Keith Anderson’s admirably concise and informative liner-notes, though.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2011

Sergei Lyapunov (1859–1924) became disenchanted with the academic discipline at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied, and with the conservative inclinations of his teacher, Sergei Taneyev. So he sought out Balakirev of the Mighty Five, with whose Russian nationalist leanings Lyapunov found himself more in sympathy. Balakirev, who at the time was the only professional musician in the group, would remain an important influence on Lyapunov. Despite this, the young composer, having been exposed to the rigors of conservatory schooling, found the others’ dilettantism distasteful and ultimately limiting; thus, as I was to learn, he fell in with the so-called Belyayev crowd, a society of Russian musicians who met in St. Petersburg between 1885 and 1908, and whose members included Glazunov, Liadov, and Rimsky-Korsakov. The latter distanced himself from the Mighty Five after he became professor of harmony, composition, and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Like the Mighty Five, the Belyayev composers also believed in cultivating a native Russian music, but they differed by embracing the requirement for a Western-styled academic education and by being more receptive to the Western-oriented cosmopolitan model of Tchaikovsky. These ideas were largely disseminated by Rimsky-Korsakov through his many students, including Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Respighi.

For Lyapunov, the Belyayev philosophy presented the best of both worlds: music of a Russian bent wedded to a solid grounding in Western harmonic and contrapuntal practices. In a way, Lyapunov, along with Alexander Kopylov (1854–1911), another Belyayev member, Moszkowski (1859–1925), and Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859–1935), were the link between Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov on one side, and the three Gs—Gretchaninov, Glazunov, and Glière—and Rachmaninoff on the other.

Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 1, in the godforsaken key of E♭-Minor (six flats!)—fine maybe for the pianist, but think of the orchestra’s string players—received its premiere in 1890 in a performance led by Balakirev. The piece won a Belyayev Glinka prize in 1904 (as did Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2), and it became a favorite of Josef Hofmann, who performed it often. Critical opinion, however, was not unanimous. Rimsky-Korsakov expressed doubts regarding Lyapunov, observing that “his music, though very noble, was almost completely lacking in originality.” And from there, Lyapunov’s ride was all downhill.

By the time Hyperion released its recording nearly 100 years later in 2002, here is what the critics were saying. Anastasia Tsioulcas of Classics Today: “This is Romantic music with a vengeance. Lyapunov never was satisfied to use one note when 10 would do just splendidly. By the end of the second concerto, you will either be utterly enthralled or so addled by trills, runs, and splayed chords that you’ll be at a loss to know which end is up.” And from an R. E. B. of ClassicalCDReview comes this gem: “The concerto (No. 1) here receives its premiere—and probably last—recording. Its popularity at the time eludes me. It’s a 23-minute work of five connected movements with no memorable melodies and an abundance of rather vapid, rambling filigree and meaningless octaves for the soloist.”

Well, R. E. B. was wrong about one thing; Hyperion’s premiere recording of Lyapunov’s First Concerto was not to be its last, for here on Naxos we have a second. Call me a sucker for “Romantic music with a vengeance,” if you like, but I find Lyapunov’s music hard to resist. Yes, it’s open to the charges leveled against it, and one might not wish to be caught reveling in the embarrassing pleasure of it, but experienced in private, who has to know? I make no claim that Lyapunov is one of music history’s great underrated talents, but the man was no mere potboiler-writing hack. What impresses as much as his obvious keyboard facility is his skill at orchestration and the importance he attaches to the orchestra, which in these works plays more than a simple accompanimental role. Much important melodic material is given to the winds, and the instruments are carefully chosen for their coloristic effects. In the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, for example, the main theme is introduced by an English horn.

Puritans, prigs, and prudes need not apply, but for all those not ashamed to leave their inhibitions at the door and to acknowledge their pleasure-seeking impulses, listening to Lyapunov is like taking a bath in Russian chocolate. And Shorena Tsintsabadze is the lady of the banya. Even if you already acquired the Milne as part of the Hyperion collection, I’d urge you to acquire this new Naxos. Timings-wise, Tsintsabadze and Milne are so close to each other that the few seconds’ differences between them in all three works are so slight they’re negligible. But in the crucial areas of interpretation, orchestral playing, and impact of recording, Tsintsabadze, Yablonsky, the Russian Philharmonic, and Naxos are the clear winners.

Hamish Milne is a wonderful pianist, but my sense of the several volumes he’s recorded for Hyperion’s Romantic Piano series is that he’s had to learn new scores specifically for the project, scores he may not necessarily have come to on his own or be deeply responsive to. His performances in the highly diverse concertos he’s committed to disc—from Hummel to Holbrooke—tend to reflect a certain sameness of approach and a surface playing of the notes that don’t always reflect their national origins or stylistic differences.

Shorena Tsintsabadze, in contrast, is Russian through and through. She was born in Moscow, studied at the Moscow Conservatory, and then in the U.S. with Oxana Yablonskaya. Lyapunov is in her blood, and you can hear it in the way she brings out the Russian idioms in this music derived indirectly from native folk melody sources. One has the feeling that these works have special meaning for her; whereas for Milne, one senses they are just three more assignments checked off the list.

Then there’s the Russian Philharmonic, which, under Yablonsky, sounds not only more technically poised and polished but more deeply into these scores than the BBC’s Scottish contingent under Brabbins. And finally, there’s the Naxos recording, which has a depth and presence to it that exceeds Hyperion’s 2002 effort. Listening to the two CDs, one after the other, I think I can understand why the previously quoted critics had the reaction they did to Lyapunov’s music. Fine as Hyperion’s recording was for its time, the new Naxos eclipses it in every respect and, in my opinion, makes a much stronger case for these works. At Naxos’s budget price, you can’t afford not to add this to your collection, even if you already have Milne.

Patsy Morita, April 2011

This premiere recording by pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze includes the complete concerted piano works of Sergey Lyapunov. Lyapunov is certainly not one of the better-known or more imaginative Russian Romantics, but for those who are fascinated by the composers known as the “Mighty Handful” and their compatriots and followers, Lyapunov is a figure of interest. He was greatly influenced by Mily Balakirev, who provided Lyapunov with a good deal of advice on the composition of the Piano Concerto No. 1. Balakirev became the dedicatee of the work and also conducted its premiere in 1891. The two opening themes of the single-movement concerto—one stern, one pastoral—are unmistakably Russian. The piano writing in all three of these works shows the virtuosic legacy of Liszt, who was the teacher of one of Lyapunov’s piano instructors. The Second Piano Concerto (1909), also a single movement, has proven slightly more popular than the first (this is only the second commercial recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1). It begins slowly, sounding more like the middle movement of a large, three-movement Russian concerto, but then moves into more rhapsodic and dramatic material. The Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes will appeal particularly to listeners who enjoy Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture and Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia. It has a similarly spring-like freshness and joyfulness to it, complete with prominent roles for the tambourine and triangle in the central episode of its rondo structure. (The recording’s sound is extremely well-balanced among all the instruments.) Tsintsabadze and conductor Dmitry Yablonsky comport themselves skillfully and expressively in all three pieces, although there occasionally is the feeling that they need just a little more nuanced phrasing and shaping to satisfy those who revel in the passion of the Romantics. In the latter half of the Rhapsody there is a point where everyone’s energy seems to flatten out a tad, which could have been exploited as a more sweeping change of demeanor in the music. Nonetheless, Tsintsabadze is certainly a very capable pianist, sounding as if she can handle the bigger Romantic concertos, and she effectively demonstrates where Lyapunov’s concertos fall in the history of Russian music.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, April 2011

Ukranian composer Sergey Lyapunov’s (1859–1924) piano concertos glisten with effective virtuosic passages; his music is entertaining enough while listening…Beautifully played by Shorena Tsintsabadze, with the Russian Philharmonic led by Dmitry Yablonsky (8.570783). The well-recorded disc also includes Lyapunov’s Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, March 2011

Sergei Liapounov has always seemed to inhabit the fringe rather than the cutting edge of Russian music, in many respects content to continue on where The Five left off. Rimsky-Korsakoff famously characterized him as almost completely lacking in originality, sometimes mimicking Balakirev, sometimes Glazounov. Today he’s remembered more as educator and folklorist than composer; he published some 300 songs—several of them in his own arrangements. Some may also know his orchestration of Balakirev’s Islamey; and it was Liapounov who undertook the completion of Balakirev’s Second Piano Concerto after his mentor’s death.

His own Second Concerto has been recorded more often than its predecessor. That’s not to say either of his concertos (nor the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes for that matter) is ever likely to become standard repertory—more’s the pity. This is only the second time all three have been gathered together on one record, following the Hyperion with Hamish Milne and Martyn Brabbins we hailed nearly 10 years ago.

Given Liapounov’s estimable reputation as a concert pianist and his studies with both Pavel Pabst and Liszt’s pupil Karl Klindworth, we may not be surprised to learn that his affection for the Hungarian master inspired him to compose his own set of Transcendental Etudes dedicated to Liszt’s memory. That direct influence is also reflected in his concertos, both of them conceived as a single movement with clear fast and slow sections often connected by a brief cadenza. Surely you can hear the opening of Liszt’s First Concerto in the rugged orchestral tutti that launches Liapounov’s counterpart—though harmonically the chorale in the horns that follows sounds very much like Glazounov—and there are passages in Liapounov’s Second Concerto that might have been lifted from Liszt’s (listen around 8 minutes in). But Liszt surely never would have thought of the expansive opening Lento of 2—it sounds so very Russian, really not that far removed from the first movement of Glazounov’s Fourth Symphony. Indeed, while far from lacking in opportunities for the soloist to shine, the mood of both concertos is more lyrical and introspective than fustian, much like Glazounov’s Violin Concerto or the Fifth Concerto of Vieuxtemps, and I’m really surprised the immense popularity of those examples has never been afforded to Liapounov. Russian cognates to the Ukrainian bouquet seem limited to whiffs of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto at the outset; in turn the second cited theme reminded me of the finale of Xaver Scharwenka’s Second Concerto, an impish and very Polish sounding romp, while the finale is a hearty Cossack kazachok.

Besides the Milne you may find separate discs of 2 from Howard Shelley and Vassily Sinaisky on Chandos and Alexander Bakhchiev with Boris Khaikin on Russian Disc, while the indefatigable Michael Ponti recorded the Rhapsody in Volume 5 of Vox’s “Romantic Piano Concerto” series. I pulled down all of them in anticipation of a fairly lengthy comparison, but it wasn’t really necessary. Shelley is elegant and nuanced in 2, and Sinaisky’s superb account of Liapounov’s First Symphony compels purchase; in turn Milne’s phrasing and tone color are beyond approach—often suggesting he’s playing much of it quite ex tempore just as Liszt would have done—and the Scots offer committed support as they always do. Bakhchiev in 2 gives you the full Lisztian treatment, emphasizing bravura and massive tone; while Ponti sets out in robust fashion in the Rhapsody but soon starts pounding away, and in the final Cossack dance he spins way out of control. If you have all three with Milne you may rest content; but if Naxos was looking to balance out the Hyperion with a more Russian blend they couldn’t have come up with a better choice.

Moscow-born Shorena Tsintsabadze seems born to play this music; she embraces it like Van Cliburn did the Tchaikovsky, warmly lyrical and impassioned in turn and blessed with a wide-ranging span of the keyboard from full bass register to glittering, yet never clattery top end. She traverses the shifting moods of both concertos with ease but truly comes into her own in the Rhapsody, tossing off the central “Polish” dance in deft fashion and really going to town in the Cossack Dance, a close match to Milne—indeed I couldn’t possibly ask you to choose between them and must wholeheartedly recommend both. The Russians under Yablonsky clearly know how this music should go, and sonics are warm and detailed. Add in the low Naxos cost and this has to be one of the great bargains for anyone who loves Russian music. I’m already looking forward eagerly to their imminent release of the Liapounov First Symphony and Violin Concerto under Yablonsky.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, February 2011

Sergei Lyapunov (1859–1924), the answer to the “Who is he?” featurette in my last month’s column, is a Russian composer whose time is certainly past due. A Student of Mily Balakirev, he represents the second generation of the Russian National School that produced so much glorious music. He was influenced also by Franz Liszt, to whose memory he dedicated his 12 Transcendental Etudes. Since that work completed the tone sequence begun by Liszt in his own similarly titled masterwork that required the most formidable skills required of the pianist performing them (etudes d’exécution transcendente) it would have been sheer audacity for Lyapunov to employ such a title if his own keyboard skills had not been as formidable as they were.

That they were that impressive is evident from the opening of Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat minor. After the introduction by the orchestra of an unmistakably Russian theme in octaves, pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze makes her presence known early and often, handling the well-defined lyricism in the Adagio section with skill and feeling. When the opening theme returns in the long-awaited modulation to E flat major at the end, we have come to a very satisfying conclusion.

Concerto No. 2 in E major affords Tsintsabadze and the RPO under Yablonsky even more occasions to shine in its relaxed, natural give and take between soloist and orchestra. Like its predecessor, this is a concerto in a single movement in which there is a nice balance between broadly stated melodies by the orchestra and finely crafted cadenza-like passages by the pianist, striking a natural balance between urgency and relaxation. The slow section, Lento ma non troppo, allows the soloist to display delicate tracery and subtle warmth that never descends to sentimentality.

Finally, Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes makes much of its folk themes and the pianist’s virtuosity, culminating in cascades of sound as we arrive at the climax, a rousing Cossack dance. Whether or not Rimsky Korsakov’s assessment that Lyapunov “lacked originality” will hold up with the passage of time, his music is undeniably attractive in its warmth and melodic qualities. These three works, short on thinks but long on feeling, embody what we love about the Russian piano concerto. They need to be heard more often.

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.

Brian Wilson - Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, February 2011

You either love Russian music of this period, as I do, or you think it’s going nowhere, finding it impossible to love or hate—which is why Balakirev’s First Symphony, the real litmus test, has to be a private affair for me because my wife places it in the ‘going nowhere’ category, even in the superb Beecham recording on EMI (Perhaps that’s why that splendid CD is no longer available). Lyapunov’s two short Piano Concertos and the Rhapsody are superb spirit-lifters and this idiomatic set of performances, well recorded—much better than what used to emanate from Moscow, and in good mp3—are almost guaranteed to be regular visitors when I need a psychological boost without too much mental effort.

David Fanning
Gramophone, February 2011

He may not be a major composer but Lyapunov’s music is still worth hearing

Lyapunov’s two piano concertos stand among the many pleasant foothills in the mountain range of the Russian tradition. Although written at the age of 30, the first (1890) is only his Op 4, and in its alternation of dreamy and runabout moods, and frank imitations of Chopin, Liszt and Balakirev, it sounds very much like the work of an eager student. Nearly 20 years later, Lyapunov was more adept in stitching together his ideas, which now have more breadth and flow, if hardly any more individuality. Once again, just as the music seems to be gathering speed for lift-off, it is weighed down by academic cliché, and the piano-writing itself palls mightily beside the likes of Rachmaninov.

Both works could justly have been entitled rhapsodies, without misrepresenting their structure or expressive horizons. Composed in 1907, the Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes itself is probably the most enjoyable—because least pretentious—music on the disc and is certainly worth a hearing, if only to discover where Rachmaninov may well have found the main first movement theme for his Third Piano Concerto two years later. In short, this is excellent fare for background listening and for filling gaps in one’s knowledge.

Moscow-born Shorena Tsintsabadze gives direct, well-schooled accounts of all three works, playing them for what they are worth but not more. In the same coupling Hamish Milne and the BBC Scottish display a good deal more finesse and élan, and for my money the extra layout is easily worth it. But the newcomer is perfectly serviceable.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, February 2011

Sergey Lyapunov was the son of a mathematician-astronomer father and a musician mother. His early studies were with her, until his father’s death caused the family to move to Nizhny-Novgorod, where he began study in the local branch of the Russian Musical Society in 1873. He would later attend the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Taneyev, and for a brief time Tchaikovsky. He would later move to St. Petersburg, where he became a disciple of Mily Balakirev, the self-ordained leader of the Russian nationalist group of composers. This association was to have a profound effect on the young composer, keeping him away from a rival circle led by Belyayev, and causing his output to be more backward looking than forward.

The three works presented here for piano and orchestra owe a sizable debt to Franz Liszt, with their single movement forms, boisterous and virtuosic solo writing and thick orchestrations including percussion instruments like the triangle, not commonly found in concerto accompaniments before Liszt.

The first concerto is an early work, composed in 1890 when Lyapunov was thirty-one years old. It opens with a long orchestral introduction which lays out all of the prevalent themes before the entrance of the soloist. The piano part is marked by flashy upward arpeggio figures and long stretches of thundering octaves which frankly, wear upon the ear after a while. The work is not a total failure by any means, but is definitely not a masterpiece either.

The second concerto fares better, and as Keith Anderson comments in his concise and informative program note, is worthy of a place in the canon of romantic piano concertos. Also in one movement, there is much more maturity of thought both in the harmonic language and in some of the sweeping and genuinely beautiful melodies. Virtuosity is abundant, yes, but in this case, it serves the music far better than the somewhat empty flashiness of the first concerto.

In 1893, Lyapunov, along with Balakirev and Lyadov was commissioned to collect folk songs in the Vologda, Vyatka and Kostroma regions of Russia. This effort resulted in the writing down of almost three hundred native songs, with Lyapunov providing accompaniments to several of the tunes. This surely influenced his 1907 Rhapsody on Ukrainian themes. A work that is again heavily indebted to Franz Liszt, it was first performed in 1909 with the composer as soloist, Balakirev as conductor and Ferruccio Busoni as dedicate. It is in the form of a rondo and is full of the kind of virtuosic flurry that one would find in any work of Liszt.

Shorena Tsintsabadze is fairly new to the concert world and was still pursuing post-graduate music studies in 2010. Despite her youth, she is a fully competent soloist with ample technique, a rich warm tone and quite capable of the finger-busting demands of this flashy music. Her sound is never overbearing, but it is amply robust and never clangy and bangy in a Lang Lang sort of manner. Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra provide a rich and balanced accompaniment. Tempo choices are to be admired as Maestro Yablonsky never lets the music get bogged down, a problem that could easily come about due to the thickness of the orchestrations and the broad sweeping qualities of the tunes.

In short, this is music worth a listen or two, and fans of buxom Russian romanticism will find much to wallow in. The second concerto makes this program worth the price of admission.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2011

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.

David Hurwitz, January 2011

Sergey Lyapunov’s music is so derivative that it’s almost impossible to detect any sign of an independent personality at work. The strongest influence on his music was Balakirev, but then no one today much knows (or cares) what makes that composer’s work distinctive either, so perhaps it’s best just to call Lyapunov a typical Russian Romantic Nationalist of the Rimsky-Korsakov school and leave it at that. Maybe there is something personal in his love of dense figuration and ornamentation in the solo part, but beyond that what we have in both of these concertos is about 20 minutes of extremely, though not always memorably, tuneful noodling arranged in a compact, Lisztian, single-movement format. The Ukrainian Rhapsody is a touch shorter, and even more delicious owing to the more strikingly ethnic thematic material, but otherwise offering more of the same.

Lyapunov is well-served on disc, if not generously so. This exact coupling is available in Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series, more vividly recorded (and more expensive), but pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze and Dmitry Yablonsky more than hold their own against the team of Milne and Brabbins on the English label. Tsintsabadze has the digital dexterity to attack these pieces with aplomb, never losing herself (or the tune) in Lyapunov’s numerous musical gestures and asides. The Russian Philharmonic is certainly no less accomplished than Hyperion’s BBC forces, and while, as just suggested, the sonics are somewhat studio-bound, Tsintsabadze’s piano sounds aptly bold and bright. Not great music perhaps, but well worth hearing and very enjoyable all the same., January 2011

The music of Sergey Lyapunov is of somewhat less interest—it is easier to see why it has gone through a long period of benign neglect. Lyapunov (1859–1924) was so strongly influenced by Mily Balakirev (1837–1910) that he never seems to have developed a voice uniquely his own: both his piano concertos and his Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes clearly look back at Balakirev’s music—in fact, Balakirev himself made many suggestions for Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and may have had a hand in composing, or at least revising, the finished product. When Lyapunov does not seem to be channeling Balakirev, he tends to sound much like Alexander Glazunov, who was his contemporary, living from 1865 to 1936, but whose music (itself largely neglected nowadays) bears a more personal stamp. Yet Lyapunov’s music, derivative though it is, ought not to be casually and totally dismissed. He has a very strong sense of structure—both his piano concertos are in a single movement—and a real flair for virtuoso piano writing, shown in the many cadenzas within the concertos and the Rhapsody. Furthermore, although Lyapunov’s themes are often strongly Russian, almost self-consciously so (no surprise, given Balakirev’s influence on him), his treatment of them is invariably skillful, and his harmonic progressions are logical, well planned out and very satisfying to the ear. The three Lyapunov works here will sound even more old-fashioned to listeners who know their dates—the first concerto was written in 1890, the second in 1909, and the Rhapsody in 1907. But if they seem to look back to an earlier time and the works of earlier composers, it is worth noting that they were by no means the last Russian concertos to do so: one need think only of Rachmaninoff. Shorena Tsintsabadze plays all the works idiomatically and skillfully, and Dmitry Yablonsky, who is making something of a specialty of rediscovering less-known Russian music, conducts with flair and a sure hand.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, January 2011

Early in his career Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov (1859–1924) came under the influence of the Russian Nationals, a group led by Mily Balakirev and whose members included Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Cui. The works offered on this Naxos CD show the influence of some of these, to be sure, but more than anything else, it is the voice of Liszt that is most noticeable here, particularly in the piano writing. It is understandable that Lisztian elements would creep into the First Concerto, a work written in 1890, when the composer was turning thirty and still developing his style. But the Second Concerto, completed in 1909, is even more beholden to Liszt.

That said, the music is not pure imitation—Lyapunov’s own Russian soul, his thematic prowess and sense for dazzling pyrotechnics also infuse this music with a character of its own. The First Concerto, like the Second, is cast in one movement and lasts about twenty-two minutes. At the outset it calls to mind the opening of the Borodin Symphony #2, but once the piano enters, hints of Liszt appear. The keyboard writing is always skillful and very colorful though, and thematic material is clearly Russian, not a product of Liszt’s New German School.

The Second Concerto is probably the stronger work here, even though it doesn’t suggest much stylistic evolution by the composer. It’s shorter than the First by about three minutes and features some very attractive themes and the usual brilliant piano writing. It also has quite a dazzling ending that calls to mind the Liszt Second, replete with glissandos and a dash of bombast.

The Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes is a bit shorter still and cast in a rondo form. It too is in one movement, and, not surprisingly, features a more exotic character to its thematic material, all folk-derived as the title suggests. Like its companion pieces here, it is also very Lisztian: beginning at 5:45 the piano writing is heavily suggestive of Liszt, and at about 6:00 you think the music is going to slide right into the last section of Liszt’s Sixth Rhapsody. Even some of the brassy parts of the orchestration that follow carry more than a hint of Liszt. I don’t want to engage in overkill about the Lisztian connections here, since this work is actually quite good.

In the end, all three pieces should appeal to those listeners interested in Romantic and post-Romantic piano music. These works are unabashedly Romantic to the core and contain many appealing themes, with highly-skilled piano writing. Moscow-born pianist Shorena Tsintsabadze, a student of Oxana Yablonskaya (mother of the conductor here), catches the fire and the poetry of the music, meets its pyrotechnical demands with relative ease and imparts a wonderful sense of imagination to her interpretations. Dmitry Yablonsky draws fine performances from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, and Naxos provides excellent sound. Recommended.

Film Music: The Neglected Art, December 2010

One of the nice things about Naxos is they never seem to be afraid to take a chance on someone who is not been very well recorded. Such is the case with Sergey Lyapunov a composer whose recordings premiered in the 1890’s and early 20th century, a time of unrest in the Soviet Union as well as the emergence of a young Rachmaninoff whose works have proven far more popular over the years.

Lyapunov attended the Moscow Conservatory where he was a pupil of Taneyev as well as Tchaikovsky in 1878. In 1885 he became associated with Mily Balakirev the leader of the mighty five and as a result of this relationship he became isolated from the newer up and coming composers. Perhaps this is why other composers of the time became more popular? In fact it was Sergey who completed the last movement of Balakirev’s Piano Concerto in E flat major in 1910. By that time he had achieved a high level of maturity and was able to take on this task both from a technical standpoint and a knowledge of Balakirev.

Written in 1907 and performed by Lyapunov in 1909 the work is a marvelous example of something truly special but virtually unknown to classical listeners. Research on my part found only two previous recordings of this work from Hamish on Hyperion and Ponti on Vox. The work begins with a rhapsody from the English Horn very serene with a bit of sadness, an answer from the flute, and then the piano takes over. Slowly at first it builds into something quite showy and powerful. A second theme begins with the piano and it is here where it is allowed to fully explore with a full attack and fury. A third theme follows quite Russian in nature, a dance where the orchestra and piano become one and while the piano is still featured the orchestra never takes a back seat. This work is one where the orchestra and piano complement one another and work together. There are not long periods of time where the piano is front and center and the orchestra is quiet. There is plenty of thematic material and that showy Lizst style yet the orchestra plays an important part in the work creating his sound with wonderful melodies. If you listen carefully you can hear a small Tchaikovsky influence in the work, particularly in a couple of phrases. The ending is very grand and allows us to know this is definitely a piano piece. This is a work that should bear further exploring on your part and would be a nice addition to your material. Recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group