After many years of neglect, there seems to be something of a Renaissance of late-nineteenth century Russian piano music under way. After admirable CDs of Shostakovich (DDA25080), Rebikov (DDA25081), Gliere (DDA25083), and Arensky (DDA25085), Anthony Goldstone has turned his attention to the large-scale romantic solo piano works of Lyapunov. It is certainly unarguable that these works borrow their soundworld largely from of the music of Balakirev, his mentor, but given the quality of the model that is surely no bad thing; besides, many composers inherit large parts of their musical idiolect and we think no less of them for it. Both composers are overdue for a reappraisal, and it is pleasing to see new recordings of Balakirev’s own solo piano works (CDA67806 with Danny Driver, and BRILL94086 with Alexander Paley) appearing this month.
Despite the resemblances, there are quite palpable differences between the two composers. Lyapunov’s works have a breadth and grandness beyond that achieved by Balakirev, and in contrast with Balakirev’s focussed and melancholy Sonata, Lyapunov’s feels expansive and rhapsodic. This is attributable to a strong flavour of Liszt in the latter’s soundworld, which works both for and against the music, making it gesturally coherent but also less quirkily distinctive than Balakirev’s, imbuing it with an urbane and slightly aloof quality. That it delivers its riches less readily does not make Lyapunov’s music less worthwhile; music that requires repeated hearing to be fully appreciated frequently proves to be of deeper and more enduring worth than the immediately assimilable.
There is another recording of these works (Marco Polo 8223468), but Anthony Goldstone’s is in every way preferable for insight, virtuosity—at a high level, these works require serious pianism—and recording quality. Less melancholy than Rachmaninov, more characterful than Medtner, this is music of poise, elegance and dignity that will provide much listening satisfaction. Naxos have also just released recordings of his Piano and Violin Concertos (8570783 & 8570462); now is surely a perfect time to make his music’s acquaintance.