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Liszt, Lyapunov - Transcendental Etudes / Konstantin Scherbakov

Release Date: 04/05/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30098
Composer:  Franz Liszt ,  Sergei Lyapunov Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov Number of Discs: 2

Lyapunov's Douze études d’exécution transcendante were meant as a complement to Liszt’s Transcendental Études and dedicated to his memory. But more than an homage, they finish what Liszt had started. Russian virtuoso Konstantin Scherbakov brings these two great works together for the first time.

Album Credits:

Recorded January 20 – 23, 2018 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sclafani
Assistant Engineer: Melody Nieun Hwang
Editing: Kazumi Umeda
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores
Piano Technician: Lauren Sclafani
Piano: Steinway Model D #597590 (New
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Executive Producers: Eric Feidner and Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Photo of Konstantin Scherbakov: Jen-Pin Lin


So far as I can tell, this release marks the first time that both Liszt and Lyapunov sets of Twelve Transcendental Etudes have been paired on disc. Given the luscious sonority and opulent power that Konstantin Scherbakov summons in concert, his performances of the first two Liszt pieces come off surprisingly dry and “notey”, where small details prevail and the big, sweeping picture recedes. However, Mazeppa’s rapid middle-register chords are uncommonly poised and clear, in contrast to the scrambled, clattery effect one often hears. Although Feux follets is not so scintillatingly brisk in the manner of the still-unmatched Richter and Nojima paradigms, Scherbakov’s imaginative pedaling and original rubatos shed poetic light on a piece that all too often is treated like an athletic event rather than a miniature tone poem.

The same holds true for No. 10, where Scherbakov balances the yearning melody and cascading triplets in thoughtful perspective. The pianist does well in the heroic sixth, seventh, and eighth studies, although occasionally clipped phrasings dissipate much of Wilde Jagd’s inherent ferocity; I suspect that a more resonant ambience would have helped matters. Numbers nine, eleven, and twelve satisfyingly showcase the pianist’s intelligent pacing and lyrical gifts.

In short, Scherbakov channels his considerable technique toward musical ends, in the manner of similarly conceived Liszt Transcendental Etude cycles from Kirill Gerstein and Nelson Goerner. Listeners wanting more fire and brimstone in the mix should stick with Daniil Trifonov, Freddy Kempf, the classic mono Geroges Cziffra version, or Lazar Berman’s second pass (ratty sonics and all). For an ideal mix of bravura and musicality, Claudio Arrau and Laszlo Simon (a/k/a Joyce Hatto) remain reference points.

Scherbakov first recorded Lyapunov’s Transcendental Etudes back in 1993 for Marco Polo, and his new Steinway & Sons versions make for fascinating comparison. Sonically speaking, Steinway’s closer, fuller-bodied perspective differs from Marco Polo’s slightly distant yet more realistic concert hall perspective (I’ll refer to Marco Polo as Scherbakov I and Steinway as Scherbakov II). In the opening Lullaby, Scherbakov I spins out the lovely melodies to more animated and lilting effect, and Scherbakov II pushes less precipitously while building Rondes des Fantomes’ climax. Carillon now takes on an impetuous edge, although Scherbakov I’s faster Summer Night is lighter in texture. No question that No. 6’s stormy evocations benefit from Scherbakov II’s harder-hitting accents and stronger contrasts of mood, but Scherbakov I brings greater ferocity and sweep to the epic final etude, particularly in the central section’s rhetorical outbursts.

A clear-cut choice between Scherbakov I and II is difficult to ascertain, especially with both readily available, not to mention Vincenzo Maltempo’s altogether stunning version on the Piano Classics label. One also should mention the vivid booklet notes by’s own Jens F. Laurson.

-- Jed Distler,

The 12 Transcendental Etudes of composer and pianist Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924) were rarely played for many years, but the revival of golden age pianism spearheaded by the Steinway & Sons label, among others, has brought them out of the woodwork. They were inspired by Liszt's Transcendental Etudes and were dedicated to Liszt's memory. This said, they don't attempt to replicate the exact structure, or programmatic subject matter, of the Liszt set. The basic idea is that there are 12 of them, and they tax the pianist to the limit. If anything, they exceed the Lisztian demands, which is saying a lot. There are various technical fireworks, but if you want to skip to the best part, sample Lesghinka. Pianist Konstantin Scherbakov can lay claim to being an heir of the great Russian virtuoso school, for he doesn't miss a step, or even let you see him sweat here. These pieces are all known in English as “Transcendental Etudes,” which is undeniably a catchy title, though not an accurate translation of the original French, “Etudes d'exécution transcendante,” or “Studies in Transcendental Execution.” This term more accurately gives the flavor of Scherbakov's readings, which have a feeling of total technical mastery. In the Liszt originals, you may miss a bit of the great composer-pianist's charisma. In the Lyapunov, he's ideal: he is simply one of the few pianists around who can get his fingers around these pieces technically. Recorded in Steinway Hall, New York City, the sound is excellent.

-- AllMusic Guide

Sergei Lyapunov composed his Études d’exécution transcendante (1897-1905) as a continuation of his idol Liszt’s celebrated cycle, which was originally conceived to run to 24 studies, not just the 12 Liszt completed. It therefore makes complete sense to pair these two complementary cycles, composed over half a century apart.

Nonetheless, the two cycles need to be judged on their own terms. The Liszt has many more rival recordings but Scherbakov’s account is a fine addition to the catalogue. While he cautions in the booklet that the studies should not be treated as mere display pieces, he relishes the technical challenges of ‘Mazeppa’ and ‘Wilde Jagd’. Yet he also finds the poetry in the cascades of notes in ‘Ricordanza’ and ‘Harmonies du soir’. This will not displace Dinara Klinton’s recording in my affections, but is a terrific set.

Scherbakov is his own main rival in the Lyapunov, which he recorded in the 1990s for Marco Polo. These new readings are more refined and full of dazzling playing: sample ‘Tempête’ or ‘Chant épique’ to hear what I mean. Lyapunov’s Russian-ness also draws a deeper response from Scherbakov.

-- Guy Rickards, International Piano Read less