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Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Piano Works

Humoresques de Concert Op. 14/1 – Minuet in G (1884)
Humoresques de Concert Op. 14/6 – Cracovienne fantastique in B major (1884)
Danses polonaises Op. 9/3 – Mazurka in A major (1884)
Danses polonaises Op. 5/2 - Mazurka in E minor (1884)
Miscellanea Op. 16/1 – Légende in A flat major (1887)
Miscellanea Op. 16/2 – Mélodie (1887)
Miscellanea Op. 16/3 – Thème varié (1887)
Chants du voyageur Op. 8/3 – Mélodie (1882)
Sonata in E flat minor Op. 21 (1903)
Elżbieta Guzek (piano)

Recorded Studio S2 Polish Radio, Warsaw, September 1996
DUX 0270 [67.39]

Though his career as concert pianist, celebrity and politician left him little time for composition, like many another virtuoso performer, Paderewski did write a considerable amount of piano music. Some falls into the Chopinesque or the morceaux categories; some possesses richness of nostalgia and other pieces a fragile delicacy. Standing as an oak to saplings however is the powerful Sonata and I think it’s correct programming for Dux to lead with the Humoresques, Mazurkas and the thoroughly impressive Op. 16 set – which includes a beautiful Melodie and a vivacious, imaginative Variations – before we reach that big 35-minute Sonata.

We start though with Paderewski’s Greatest Hit, his Minuet in G major, complete with folkish lilt. Elżbieta Guzek certainly plays it for maximal contrasts, employing big dynamics and lashings of teasing rubato and maybe rather too much depth of bass sonority. For the Chopin strain one need turn no further than the A major Mazurka – homage would be a more descriptive word than pastiche I think. In the companion E minor one can hear how, inflecting it with greater tentativeness and pensive detachment, Paderewski brings out the pathos with acute security. A strong technique is needed at the service of an essentially salon piece such as the Cracovienne fantastique – well pointed and knowingly humorous as well – and Paderewski deals alike with dance rhythms and affecting melancholy in the Legende and the Melodie from the Chants du voyageur respectively. Paderewski can be stolid, it’s undeniable, and some of his passagework can tend toward the generic on occasion, as when the Theme varié begins but as compensation there is some truly curvaceous lyricism in fine late-Romantic style.

The Sonata was written in 1903 when Paderewski was forty-three and at the height of his purely pianistic fame. He was at one time the world’s most expensive pianist commanding astounding fees. It’s a work long on powerful rhetoric with numerous moments of intense, romantic complexity. The powerful climaxes from 8.30 in this performance don’t register with quite the force they might, mainly due to the rather cold acoustic, but the language is certainly unsettling enough in its fissure and drama. Broody rolled chords announce the slow movement that rises inexorably to a crest of animation, splendidly argued by Guzek. The finale is maybe a slight let-down in its relative predictability but it does nonetheless drive with real animation and sheer confidence.

The attractions of this disc are cemented by the fine looking booklet with its sepia tints and etched profile of the tonsorially engorged composer. This is a much overlooked slice of repertoire but with increased awareness of his Concerto and Symphony we can hope that Dux’s fine work in the instrumental and chamber field will gain the recognition it deserves.

Jonathan Woolf


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