LYAPUNOV:  Symphony No. 1, Op. 12.  Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 38.  Polonaise, Op. 16.
Howard Shelley, pianist; BBC Philharmonic Orch/Vassily Sinaisky, cond.
CHANDOS CHAN 9808 (F) (DDD) TT:  64:31

LYAPUNOV:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Minor, Op. 4.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in E, Op. 38.  Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 28.
Hamish Milne, pianist; BBC Scottish Symphony Orch/Martyn Brabbins, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67326 (F) (DDD) TT:  59:06

Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924) whose music is known to few collectors except perhaps for his major work for solo piano, Twelve Transcendental Etudes, composed in memory of Franz Liszt.  After studies at Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Tchaikovsky he graduated with honors and moved to St. Petersburg where Balakirev became his mentor and teacher.  Eventually Lyapunov became a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, later emigrating to Paris where he directed a school of music for Russian ÈmigrÈs; he died in Paris in 1924. His keen interest in folksongs is reflected in his music, particularly his best-known concerted work, Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 28, written in 1908, a year before his second concerto.  Some collectors may have the 1975 Vox  recording by Michael Ponti available in a budget set (CDX 5068), where the composer's name is spelled "Serge Liapunov."

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat minor, Op. 4 dates from 1890 and premiered with Balakirev on the podium.  The concerto won a Belyayev Glinka Prize in 1904 (along with Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2) and Josef Hofmann played it extensively. The concerto here receives its premiere - and probably last - recording.  It's popularity at the time eludes me - it is 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.  Concerto No. 2, completed in 1909, is in six rather brief movements; informative notes by Edward Garden (who wrote a book on Balakirev) compare this in form to Liszt's Concerto No. 2.  While undoubtedly of more substance than its predecessor, Lyapunov's Concerto No. 2 is easily forgettable. Both Howard Shelley and Hamish Milne are superb pianists who do total justice to what is in the scores - and Milne is to be commended for giving us the opportunity to hear the First Concerto even though we may not wish to repeat the experience.  At least we now know this is not an unjustly neglected treasure, and Milne's performance of Ukrainian Rhapsody is preferred to the older Ponti version - with splendid sound an added feature.

Symphony No. 1 is the most interesting music on this pair of CDs.  Written seven years after the first concerto, it is richly orchestrated, if perhaps a bit over-long (39:50).   Borodin's influence is always apparent particularly in the lovely second movement Andantino.  The lively Polonaise, Op. 16 brings this CD to a pleasant if not rousing close.

The Chandos disk boasts their usual warm, resonant sound; Hyperion's CD also has exemplary sonics.  If you're curious to hear both Lyapunov piano concertos the latter gives you an opportunity to do so (it is Volume 30 in their valuable The Romantic Piano Concerto).  I imagine most collectors will prefer the Chandos for its inclusion of the two symphonic works - and omission of the first concerto.

R.E.B. (November 2002)