A Fascinatingly Cross-Pollinated, Passionate Album of Vladigerov Piano Suites

by delarue

Colorful Bulgarian pianist plays colorful Bulgarian composer’s music. A no-brainer, right? Nadejda Vlaeva’s latest album, comprising Pancho Vladigerov’s Exotic Preludes & Impressions – which isn’t online – blissfully captures the composer’s ruggedly individualistic blend of Balkan and Middle Eastern-inspired chromatics with High Romantic Russian intensity and more circumspect French Impressionistic influences. This is not subtle music but it is great fun.

Both of the suites on the record are early works, a hotshot young pianist making bold statements proving he was an important new voice, and Vlaeva’s powerful, mutable attack validates that promise. She revels in the flamenco flickers, rapidfire cascades and heroic passion of the opening Nocturne-Serenade, the first of the six Exotic Preludes, Op. 17.

The second piece is a prelude, Vlaeva quickly rising to a forceful insistence amid spectacular torrents and an often ancient-sounding, Rite of Springlike otherworldliness. Vlayeva maintains a striking dynamic range, from a breathtaking, floating precision, to unleashed, emphatic power, throughout the Exotic Dance, with echoes of Vladigerov’s contemporary, Kachaturian but also the French Romantics.

She takes a meticulous but relaxed approach to the glisteningly ornamented, strolling Evening Song, then balances rolling waves against fierce counterpoint in a second prelude. The concluding Elegy is a real change of pace, stately, pentatonically-tinged contrapuntal phrases against a bell-like pedalpoint, with a shameless series of Rachmaninoff quotes.

The Ten Impressions seem to trace a torrid affair, and are far closer to the Romantic than the Near East. Vlaeva proceeds cautiously through the enigmatic harmonies of Desire – this dude can’t seem to make up his mind. She imbues the Embrace, which the composer calls a passacaglia, with a visceral triumph but also a somewhat muted joy. There are echoes of a famous, creepy Saint-Saens piece in between the post-Debussy harmonies of the Waltz-Capriccio.

Tenderness quickly expands to triumphant leaps and bounds in Caress, then Vlaeva returns to a liquid legato articulation in the aptly titled Elegance, spicing it with a few playful glissandos. She follows a lyrical, unabashedly Romantic upward trajectory in Confession, while Laughter is a detour into cheery ragtime, romping through the upper registers.

There’s a surprising, Debussyesque restraint and lingering suspense to much of Passion. Surprise is where Vlaeva gets to let those bracing, Balkan-inflected harmonies resonate again: what’s unexpected is the shift to a victorious waltz midway through. The finale, Resignation begins as a flamenco-inspired nocturne; Vlaeva lowers the curtain with a sudden, somber grace at the end. A constantly entertaining album with genuine archival relevance.