Nenov’s Piano Concerto and Ballade No. 2 performed by Ivo Varbanov

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COMPOSERS: Nenov
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Nenov
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Ballade No. 2
PERFORMER: Ivo Varbanov (piano); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68205

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Though almost forgotten today, Dimitar Nenov (1901-53) was a significant figure in Bulgaria’s cultural life. Trained as an architect, he designed several of Bulgaria’s public buildings, and was also an accomplished pianist who taught at the Sofia State Conservatoire. He founded the nation’s first radio orchestra in 1930, and was co-founder of Bulgaria’s Contemporary Music Society. Yet the music on this CD is colourful and spicy rather than avant garde even for its day. It seems sadly ironic that Nenov’s work was attacked in the 1940s by Khachaturian – whose music it often recalls – in an article published in Soviet Music. Nenov was clearly targeted not for his music but for his bourgeois background and failure to pay obeisance to the Communist Party.

His Concerto, composed in 1936, has previously been recorded on the Bulgarian label Gega. Though fiery, that account is no match for this excellent new recording by Ivo Varbanov with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by fellow Bulgarian Emil Tabakov – the orchestral playing in particular is far more accomplished than that on the Gega CD. Szymanowski is its predominant influence, though the folk inflections and bold primal colours often recall Khachaturian’s early work and occasionally Bartók; the noble tune with which it ends sounds like Vaughan Williams. Ballade No. 2 (1943) starts in more reflective style, Bartók apparently the more dominant influence, though the loudly exuberant tuttis again recall Khachaturian.

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Daniel Jaffé