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Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Symphony in B minor Polonia Op. 24 (1909) [27.58; 15.11; 28.55]
Symphony Orchestra Music Academy, Cracow/Wojciech Czepiel
rec. UPC Theatre, Cracow, 12-17 Dec 2000. DDD
DUX 0304 [72.05]

Dux have done very well by Paderewski - please see Jonathan Woolf's reviews of the piano and chamber music.

Here is Paderewski’s single massive Symphony - a work of ambitious aspiration. Paderewski began work on it in 1903 and intended a dedication to mark the 40th anniversary of Poland's uprising against Tsarist rule. The work was finished in 1908. During the intervening years his fame as pianist had spread and the classic struggle between composition and the life of a travelling virtuoso took its toll on progress with the work.

The secure, moodily auburn tone of the strings in the Miaskovskian introduction to first movement is a credit to the players. At no time while listening to this disc did I shudder or feel that we might have been betrayed by the weaknesses of some student orchestras. I suspect we are talking here about seniors with a stiffening of teachers and other professionals because the playing is uniformly admirable. This is tested through sometimes saturated textures as in the uproarious splendour of the fanfaring final five minutes of this Mahlerian length of work. At that stage there is a definite touch of Glazunov's contemporaneous Eighth Symphony in the air.

In this tense cloud-hung pressurised romantic piece the music echoes with early Scriabin and Miaskovsky, the darker Tchaikovsky and even some Rachmaninov from The Isle of the Dead. The rumbling threat in the pages of Balakirev's Tamara can also be heard. There is even the odd echo of Richard Strauss in the unembarrassed repeatedly rolling horn address at 9.00 onwards in the first movement. A Francesca-style storm at the start of the third movement veers into Korngold territory in its last ten minutes. I mentioned Mahler earlier on but this Symphony at no time sounds like Mahler. Perhaps Suk’s Asrael might be a closer cousin though the Paderewski lacks the transfixing psychological power of that work.

This is not the Paderewski’s first recording. I seem to recall that a cut version appeared on LP and also on an Olympia CD back in the 1980s. Currently the competition comes from Hyperion CDA67056 (reviewed here). Hyperion's team had a Polish conductor, Jerzy Maksymiuk (who has also conducted Czepiel's Cracow orchestra) with his own orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony. Their version, made in 1998, timed out at 30.08+17.01+27.04 as against the slightly swifter Czepiel on Dux (27.58+15.11+28.55).

I do hope that success with Dux's Paderewski series will result in sufficient funding and confidence for them to issue their complete recording of Paderewski's opera Manru. It is infuriating that this recording exists yet Dux have insufficient funding to support its production and release. Here to tantalise you further are the details: DUX 0368/0369 Taras Ivaniv, Ewa Czernak, Maciej Krzysztyniak, Zbigniew Kryczka, Barbara Krahel, Agnieszka Rehlis, Radoslaw Zrkowski, Dorota Dutkowska, Andrzej Kalinin, Choir and Orchestra of Lower Silesia Opera conducted by Ewa Michnik. There is no point in trying to order it. The master lies with DUX and will not be issued until funding is forthcoming.

For now what we have here is a late-romantic symphony of brooding grandeur. It is similar in tone to the first two Sibelius symphonies yet without quite their exceptional melodic invention and orchestrational genius. The performance is no-holds barred and is from a Polish orchestra and conductor. There is little to choose between the Hyperion and this version made two years later. The Hyperion scores on better background notes from Adrian Thomas but that is about it.

If you are in the market for a not inconsiderable late-romantic symphony and your expectations do not run to a masterwork then you should hear this … and soon. Where better than in the hands of a Polish orchestra?

Rob Barnett


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