When I was a kid I used to listen to a cassette with Russian music on it a lot. I don’t remember most of it but I know it had The Magical Snuffbox by Anatol Lyadov on it and that I loved it(here it is played by Pletnev). Beyond that Lyadov rather disappeared from my radar until a few of his miniatures started popping up on compilation CDs, mostly The Enchanted Lake which seems to be his most famous work. These few pieces that turned up were always good and I wanted to know more, so I got a Chandos release of the BBC Philharmonic playing a number of his orchestral works.
It opens with Baba-Yaga, a jumpy piece rather apt for an ambiguous figure whose hut has chicken legs. We then move into a brooding yet exciting piece From the Apocalypse, there’s a fun parochial village scene, two cracking polonaises and Kikimora, a fun, dramatic piece tied to Russian folklore. Of course The Enchanted Lake is on there tooand the link here is to the same recording as the album. Lyadov truly evokes the mystery of a lake shrouded in mist where you just know something supernatural is present.
One of the main reasons I got it however was the Eight Russian Folksongs for Orchestra which I feel is Lyadov’s best work, at least in terms of orchestral pieces. They are all exceedingly short but capture so elegantly the different feelings and sensibilities of the source, from the elegance and reverence of the Religious Chant and the heart-wrenching melancholy of the Plaintive Song to the sheer rollicking joy of the Humorous Song (subtitled I Danced with a Gnat – haven't we all?) and full flight of the Legends of the Birds.
The BBC Philharmonic captures all these to a T, as they do the other works. Conductor Vassaily Sinaisky clearly understands the emotion and the sense of wonder Lyadov was conjuring. Indeed wonder is a vital element here as the works explore folklore, religion and myth. Lyadov was clearly a man after my own heart and his music evokes all the mystery and drama anyone could hope for. This is music well worth far more recognition than it has these days.