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Romuald TWARDOWSKI (b. 1930)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1984) [23:24]
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1997) [23:37]
Small Concerto for Piano and Instrumental Group (1980) [9:03]
Old Polish Concerto "Staropolski" (1988) [11:32]
Edward Wolanin (piano)
Tomasz Strahl (cello)
The Chopin Youth Orchestra/Slawek Adam Wroblewski
rec. Warsaw 2001-2003 (no venue given)
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Twardowski is hardly a household name in the Western world, but the pieces here will likely give listeners cause to take notice.

The Piano Concerto of 1984 opens up as if to set the world on fire as a synthesis of Rachmaninov’s 3rd and, especially, Prokofiev’s 2nd and 3rd piano concertos. Elements are certainly to be found in the involved opening solo cadenza with its musical language, dark and sarcastic, often akin to Prokofiev. The theme brought out so dramatically in the cadenza is explored in a series of variations that form the entire concerto. A second theme is introduced. This is akin to Prokofiev or perhaps Rachmaninov in its uneasy beauty but somehow the boundary between the two composers has blurred. At any rate, the work is arresting, surprising, and is given exceedingly good presentation here. Why is this not on the world’s stages now?

The piano is well forward in this studio recording and the orchestra has good presence, but sounds somewhat compressed, rather like my 1980s-era recordings of Prokofiev’s concertos on Melodiya by Postnikova/Rozhdestvensky. This may be partly why Prokofiev springs to mind on listening. However the main reason is the angular jauntiness of Twardowski’s music.

The Piano Concerto’s near-relative is the following Cello Concerto, with which it has a very close connection especially in the structure of the piece. Both concertos are in one movement, starting with cadenzas, with variations of the main theme figuring heavily across the duration of the piece. The cello concerto differs in that it includes a more self-contained central episode before moving back to the variations of the main theme. The cello concerto’s opening four notes immediately call forth the main theme of the piano concerto, but here the subsequent sound-world is more introspective; less sarcastic. This is a more intimate concerto, sonorous and a wonderfully meaty piece for the cellist. The main theme opens up as a river does after rapids to a lovely barcarolle with rocking strings behind the soloist. The tone is far more romantic than that of the piano concerto, and the central section (adagio semplice) melts through the speakers after the tension of the alternatingly-dissonant horns that come in before the soloist.

The Small Concerto of five years earlier is far more brightly gregarious than its larger, darker-tempered sibling. Scored for smaller resources and of lighter texture, its opening statement reminds one immediately of music for the toy shop in various stage accompaniments of holiday plays. Composed with younger performers in mind, the orchestral backing is much more elementary than the pieces already encountered on this disc, and the scale of the movements is likewise reduced. Still, the piece is quite enjoyable; the central Andante, for almost the duration of the movement, is a lovely duo for piano and glockenspiel alone, with only a few supporting gestures by the strings. The fast final movement continues the overall impression of a toy or clock shop with its frequent use of melodic percussion. Brief and enjoyable.

The final piece on this disc, the Old Polish Concerto for string orchestra, is one of the few repeats in the Acte Préalable catalogue — it is also available, performed at a slightly slower pace by yet another youth orchestra, on AP 0120. This fits in as a fine complement to end the disc, and shows Twardowski casting a purposeful look backwards in terms of treatment of thematic material and form. The opening movement calls Prokofiev’s first symphony — also composed with a backward glance — to mind, and as well, considering backward glances, elements of Grieg’s Holberg Suite. The sound of the Zenon Brzewski Warsaw String Orchestra on the other AP 0120 release has a less compressed, more immediate sound, and would be my pick over this performance.

Overall, many fans of Prokofiev and Alexander Tcherepnin will find these works quite interesting. The somewhat compressed sound of the orchestra proves not so much a distraction than a factor that makes the recording sound older than it is. Acte Préalable does well in this release in providing a cross-section of Twardowski’s works, from the reminiscent to the more challenging. Perhaps these works will soon see a wider appreciation. I look forward to hearing future performances.

David Blomenberg

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