I used to have a piano
teacher, some forty years ago, who was
himself almost seventy years of age.
He had heard the greatly respected Polish
pianist, composer and later Prime Minister,
Jan Paderewski - apparently a very imposing
figure - give a piano recital not long
before the First World War. My teacher
played and liked the music and often
gave me a little concert of some of
the Paderewski miniatures.
I vividly recall one
interesting feature of his playing which
was also a characteristic of Paderewski
- as you can hear on archive material.
This was that, to bring out the melody,
the performer would play the right hand
by placing it on the keys just a mere
moment before the left, a style of playing
also common to Robert and Clara Schumann,
Brahms and many others but now considered
definitely passé. Well there’s
none of that here, although it would
have certainly worked stylistically.
These pieces are offered to us quite
straight but quite beautifully. Yes
beauty of tone is what is emphasized
here both by the pianist whose impressive
biography is sketched out in the booklet,
and by the company Centaur. This is
a fine realistic and warm recording
and Centaur are to be applauded for
being in such sympathy with their young
performer. And what an inspired decision
to ask a young virtuoso to play these
pieces; she is most impressive, especially
in the Sonata.
As you listen to this
music you become aware of many of the
influences upon it, which makes it illusive,
enigmatic but also familiar. There are
traces of Robert Schumann and in the
Minuets, even of an age previous, say
that of Beethoven in his classical phase.
The Sonata sometimes betrays Beethoven’s
more powerful language and then might
shift almost into a quasi-Rachmaninov
moment. There is Brahms as in the ‘Thème
varié’. Polish Dances are never
all that far away, either directly as
in the ‘Cracovienne fantastique’, based
on a tune from the Krakow district,
or indirectly as in the finale of the
Piano Sonata. It should be remembered
that Paderewski edited a complete Chopin
edition and therefore played and knew
the music intimately.
If I give the impression
that there is no strong individuality
to the music then I think that that
is a fairly accurate picture. One can
only speculate on what would have happened
later in the composer’s life if he had
not turned to politics. I suspect that
a Medtner-like style would have appeared
which would have been intriguing. As
it is we have to take what we have,
and as such it is most attractive and
tuneful and well worth performing and
It is true that there
are moments in the Sonata when perhaps
one feels that it has overstayed its
welcome, especially in the long opening
Allegro, but the middle movement is
gorgeous and the finale, although possibly
a little aimless, really makes an impression.
The miniatures are
well chosen and several quite famous
pieces have been recorded. I’m only
sorry that room was not found for any
of his wonderful but tricky Mazurkas
with their post-Chopinesque harmony.
I remember these from my old piano teacher
and because I used to attempt, so incompetently.
Nevertheless this collection offers
us a sensible and rounded collection.
Highlights for me are;
the quite famous Mélodies Op.
8 no. 3 and Op. 16 no. 2 which are typical
examples of the composer’s love of a
good tune in the right hand with a gentle
flowing left hand accompaniment. I hear
a touch of Fauré in the delicious
modulations of the ‘Chant d’amour’.
The slow movement of the Sonata with
its questioning harmony is a precursor
of Rachmaninov in his 1903 Preludes
which, coincidentally, was the very
year when Paderewski’s Sonata was published.
The Steinway - appropriately
Paderewski’s favourite make of piano
- used for the recording is an impressive
beast. Its upper register is sensitive
and lyrical when necessary - and it
is very necessary in this basically
melodic music. It is particularly rich
in the bass.
I hope that this disc
attracts attention. This is mostly unpretentious
music but it has considerable charm.
In the Sonata we have quite a powerful
work that would be well worth the effort
of any performer looking for an unusual