The Bulgarian Pancho Vladigerov’s rising profile on disc receives a considerable boost in this recital by his young compatriot pianist, Nadejda Vlaeva, clearly more than able to rise to the challenge of their atmospheric and technical demands.

Born in the last year of the 19th century, over the course of his near 80-year life Vladigerov became a hugely influential figure, his legacy marked by Bulgaria’s National Academy of Music appending his name to its title. His blending of native folk idioms within the structures of European art music produced a distinctively cosmopolitan voice that remains eloquent, attractive and rewarding.

Nadejda Vlaeva

While his orchestral music has been well-served in recent years on disc, his chamber and instrumental music has fared less well, making Hyperion’s coupling of two substantial sets for solo piano a welcome, and recommendable, addition to the catalogue.

Both works here are youthful creations, the Ten Impressions – Vladigerov’s Op. 9 – composed in 1920, the year of his graduation from Berlin’s Academy of Arts, the Six Exotic Preludes (Op.17) completed four years later. Both are substantial, running respectively to 39 and 41 minutes. And both lean appealingly towards the ecstatic.

The Ten Impressions point to Vladigerov’s already impressive grasp of piano technique and his openness to the various influences and trends of contemporary European music. Not that that disguises the over-riding impression of youthfully unabashed ardour, a becoming quality that brings a certain salon charm to the languorous ‘Desire’, pirouetting ‘Waltz-capriccio’ and rippling liquescence of the aptly titled ‘Elegance’.

There’s an appreciative splash of Slavic or Russian in ‘Embrace’, a hint of Richard Strauss in ‘Laughter’, ‘Surprise’ a veritable, emotion-saturated soundtrack for a silent movie of your own imagining. The concluding ‘Resignation’ shares the dense harmonic texture of much that has gone before but its brittle melancholy serves as a touching reminder of the vulnerability of Vladigerov’s still tender years.

The Six Exotic Preludes point to significant development in Vladigerov’s early twenties. Markedly more extended in execution, three are marked ‘in modo spagnuolo’, the others variously attributing influences derived from Arabian, Slavic and Bulgarian sources.

Opening with the cut-crystal sparkle of ‘Nocturne-Serenade’, immediately apparent is a concern for harmony and melody, evidenced in the first ‘Prelude’ with its light dusting of a Flamenco accent. Not to be outdone, the second ‘Prelude’ channels Ravel and Balakirev into an hypnotic reverie. ‘Exotic Dance’ is true to its boilingly unpredictable title, ‘Evening Song’ caught in a dreamlike hinterland between Mitteleuropa and the Middle East, the concluding ‘Elegy’ a gently narcotic Franco-Russian infusion ending, satisfyingly, in inconclusive ambiguity.

Throughout, Nadejda Vlaeva plays with an intuitive, nuanced sympathy for Vladigerov’s shifting landscapes of mood and emotion, and a controlled appreciation of his still-forming sense of technique and a virtuosity fuelled by feeling and vigour.

Producer Rachel Smith and engineer Ben Connellan perfectly frame Vlaeva’s crisp but characterful Yamaha CFX piano in the accommodating acoustic of London’s St Silas the Martyr church. Francis Pott’s informative, technically accented notes also helpfully situate Vladigerov in the churning context of his time. 

Composer/Title: Pancho Vladigerov
Work(s): Exotic Preludes and Impressions
Performer(s): Najeda Vlaeva
Label: Hyperion CDA68327

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