Nenov
Piano Concerto, Ballade No 2
Ivo Varbanov p, Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
Hyperion CDA68205

Ivo Varbanov has made it a personal mission to bring fellow Bulgarian and polymath Dimitar Nenov’s (1901-1953) music to the modern audience. This is the first commercial recording of this previously unpublished Piano Concerto No 2, paired with the 1942 Ballade. In the mid-20th century, many scores and recordings of Nenov’s were destroyed, effectively silencing this truly unique voice from the canon.

In one continuous movement, this piece is quite unlike anything else, and I’m truly glad that it’s found a champion in Varbanov. It’s not melodious music, but the orchestra and pianist work in an ever-shifting dance, from sparse, exposed moments of solo piano to Mahlerian sized orchestral tutti sections. The Largo ma non troppo adagio has the most brilliant, monolithic, bold climax reminiscent of Shostakovich or Bruckner. In contrast to those two beasts, however, Nenov changes his mind in the blink of an eye, and the orchestra withdraws to nothing, leaving the soloist exposed and solitary once more.

The Ballade is no less deserving of an audience. Opening on clean, delicate and careful orchestral colours, the sound owes quite a lot to Stravinsky’s Firebird. The piano is added for colour and effect, but not to the exuberant extent of a concerto. Nenov is bombastic, unique, and compelling. It’s a shame it’s taken so long for his music to find a champion, but it deserves one.