Album Title: Alexander Alyabiev's Orchestral & Incidental Music
Performer: Alexander Rudin/Musica Viva
Label: Fuga Libera 539)
Running time
: 61' 55"
Recorded: 2007

The bio of composer Alexander Alyabiev (1787-1851) reads like a promising film script. Born into privilege and wealth (his dad was governor of Tobolsk), Alexander was well educated, handsome, a distinguished cavalry officer, gambler, amateur composer, musician of some skill, ladies man, general carouser and man about town - pretty much a scoundrel but high-class act (my kind of guy). Unfortunately, our man Alex got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and subsequently suffered through blackmail, an
accusation of murder, a notoriously rigged trial, the stripping of his military rank and social status and a three-year prison sentence followed by exile and chronic illness.

By a curious stroke of fate, Alyabiev was able to secure a piano, bookcase and writing table for his cell along with many amenities one would not expect to find in prison. With nothing but time on his hands, Alyabiev turned to composing. Although many of his works were written prior to incarceration, composition was not something Alyabiev then considered a full-time career. While pardoned later in life, he was still essentially under house arrest until his death in 1851.

While his works were more or less censured or forgotten, it turns out that Alyabiev was surprisingly influential among musicians and composers. His song The Nightingale inspired Glinka and Liszt to create a series of elaborate transcriptions based on its theme. Even Tchaikovsky lifted one of Alyabiev's tunes for his opera Eugene Onegin. Listening to this charming disc, I am also reminded of Rimsky-Korsakov and even Rossini. In fact I don't think I'm too far off the mark suggesting that Alyabiev was a Russian Rossini with his jaunty, clever little tidbits of musical confectionery.

The disc contains several excerpts from Alyabiev's ballet The Magic Drum, a short symphony for four horns plus several overtures with strange titles like The New Two-Day Adventure and The Young Mother and the 48 Years Old Fiancé. I wouldn't say that Alyabiev was a first-rate composer along the lines of a Tchaikovsky but all the works contained here are wonderfully playful, charming and inventive.

Conductor Alexander Rudin and Musica Viva play this music with verve and panache. Recorded sound is excellent as is packaging, artwork and liner notes. In fact, Fuga Libera along with label mates Ricercar and Alpha are beyond reproach in their presentation. The only thing missing is a bottle of fine wine. I'm afraid that you'll have to provide yourself ...