LISZT; LYAPUNOV Transcendental Studies (Konstantin Scherbakov)

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Franz Liszt, Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov

Genre:

Instrumental

Label: Steinway & Sons

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 132

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: STNS30098

STNS30098. LISZT; LYAPUNOV Transcendental Studies (Konstantin Scherbakov)

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
(12) Etudes d'exécution transcendante Franz Liszt, Composer
Franz Liszt, Composer
Konstantin Scherbakov, Piano
(12) Studies, 'Études d'exécution transcendent Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov, Composer
Konstantin Scherbakov, Piano
Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov, Composer
Scherbakov is a pianist I have long admired, a superb technician with a wide-ranging and adventurous repertoire. His more than 40 CDs include a unique complete set of all Godowsky’s works. This latest release is also unique, for it is the first time that anyone has thought to couple Liszt’s Transcendental Études with Lyapunov’s complementary set.

So it gives me no pleasure to report that the result is a disappointment. Partly the trouble is the small acoustic, which does not allow the piano to truly sing. On the plus side, in both sets you get exemplary voicing, textual clarity and fidelity. But you never feel that Scherbakov is exploiting the full dynamic range of the instrument. Unusually for him, the playing is studio-safe and somewhat literal.

The opening bars of the Preludio (Liszt’s Étude No 1) set the scene. It is marked energico – and you might well think, coming new to the work, that it is indeed played energetically. But turn to one of the benchmark recordings (Lazar Berman, either in the 1959 mono version or the 1963 stereo remake) and you are swept into a tumultuous maelstrom. Molto vivace is the marking for Étude No 2, and Berman obliges with swashbuckling aplomb. Scherbakov allows tension to evaporate with fractional pauses for breath. Listen to how Berman storms home. Overwhelming. Comparative tempos illustrate the two different approaches: ‘Feux follets’ – Berman 3'23", Scherbakov 4'03"; ‘Wilde Jagd’ – Berman 4'32", Scherbakov 5'42" (hardly Liszt’s presto furioso).

Scherbakov is only the second pianist to record the complete set of Lyapunov’s Transcendental Studies twice, following in the steps of Louis Kentner, whose first account (1949; APR, 11/16) remains the benchmark. Strangely, it is both pianists’ first versions that are vastly preferable to their second attempts. In fact, I would place Scherbakov’s 1993 recording (Marco Polo, 4/94) a close second to Kentner ahead of more recent recordings by Vincenzo Maltempo and Etsuko Hirose. This new recording suffers from the same dry sound as the Liszt pieces; and while tempos and character are far more convincing in the Lyapunov, I find it puzzling when comparing both Scherbakov performances of, for instance, No 6, ‘Tempête’, and No 10, ‘Lesghinka’, that the piano sings and thunders on the Marco Polo disc – the kind of playing, in short, that we have come to expect from Scherbakov – while on the Steinway disc he is uncharacteristically reserved.

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