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. [1/17/2011]