Ivo Varbanov / Emil Tabakov / Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Dimitar Nenov: Piano Concerto; Ballade

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Communism came to Bulgaria only in the mid-1940s, but the cultural restrictions under its new regime were sufficient to wipe out any traces of adventurous new music, and the likes of composer Dimitar Nenov (1901-1953), also a noted architect, vanished almost completely. This Hyperion release by pianist Ivo Varbanov, one of the happiest results of the migration of Eastern European musicians to Britain, marks the first recording of Nenov's music outside Bulgaria. The Piano Concerto, sizable in both dimensions and orchestration, is a major addition to the repertory. Its language is tonal, but its shape is entirely modern: episodic, with diversions into passages for winds, influences from Bulgarian folk music and from church bells, and a variety of treatments of the piano that deserves to be classed with Rachmaninov. The graphics for the album list three movements, but really the three sections are part of one large movement that coheres into a kind of giant sonata form. It's unlike anything else you've heard, guaranteed. The Ballade No. 2 of 1943 moves more strongly in the direction of Bulgarian folk music; perhaps Nenov aimed at rehabilitation, but the work was not premiered until after his death in 1953. Varbanov and conductor Emil Tabakov, leading the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, rise to the occasion with sweeping, stirring performances. Highly recommended.

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