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Piano Sonata in E flat minor Op.21 (1903) [34:44]
Variations and Fugue on an original theme in A minor Op.11
Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor
Op.23 (1903) [29:39]
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 1-3 December 2006
one has thought to programme these three works together before.
It seems so logical but it’s taken Hyperion and Plowright
to show us how it can be done. And there’s no doubt that
these are commanding, triumphant and ultra-virtuosic performances
of lasting value. Plowright has shown his credentials in
such works before and he reprises his ironclad technique
once again. If one counters my opening sentence with a cursory “Well
the early A minor variations are not so hot” then lend an
exploratory ear to Plowright’s performance. He can’t convert
the Variations to the status of a masterpiece, nor anyway
near it, but he brings swagger, wit and charm in equal measure.
In fact the whole programme is well thought out and executed
with tremendous brio and panache.
let’s start with the 1903 Sonata. Here Plowright is powerfully
and expressively passionate. The hints of Liszt, of early
Rachmaninoff, maybe even Reger give the curious a hint of
what’s on offer in this teeming and big work. It may sound
a mite undigested as to influences but the overriding impression
is of sweep, grandeur and intense drama. Bravura intensity
meets in both work and performance. Try also the harmonic
awareness advanced by Paderewski in the slow movement – hints
of Wolf maybe? – though the main inspiration is one of yearning
lyricism and simplicity. If the finale has the initially
disconcerting air of one of the faster Chopin etudes it soon
absorbs certain Brahmsian traits, not least in the fugal
passages. This may seem academic but Paderewski returns to
fugal procedure to end both Variations. To sum up; a bold,
slightly sprawling, passionate work high on dramatic contrasts
played with commensurate control and leonine power.
can’t quite work out the exact date of the Variations and
Fugue on an original theme in A minor Op.11 but it was composed
quite some time before the later Variations and the Sonata.
This is a tale of extreme contrasts and evidence of youthful
precocity. The hints of Polish folk tunes are passing but
certainly present in variation four and throughout Paderewski
unveils a rich palette of suggestive music in this quarter
of an hour. There’s a skittish blink-and-it’s gone fifteen
second Presto [variation 12] and immediately following it
the antique strains of variation thirteen. Number Eleven
sounds very much like a funeral march and that’s immediately
undercut by the naughty glissandi garnishing Twelve. Paderewski
can’t keep still for a second. The work ends in a fugue with
a rather academic tinge to it though it’s an eighteenth century
academia that the composer mines. Plenty of trills of course.
later E flat minor Variations and Fugue followed in 1903,
the same year in which the sonata was completed. I think
this is the most impressive music on the disc, fully half
an hour of highly organized, complex and impressive writing.
It’s a big work, astutely judged and dispensing with the
japes of the A minor. It’s also a serious work but not doughty;
it keeps the ear alive at all times. The most obvious influence
is Brahms but there are some glimmers of Paderewski’s interest
in impressionism in variation six. Before checking the tempo
markings I characterised chordal playing in variation ten
as “grandiose”; sure enough Paderewski has marked it “Grandioso” which
is a small tribute to the veracity and vivacity of Plowright’s
projection of the music. He’s tremendous throughout – brilliantly
driving in variation fourteen, gnomic in the strange fifteenth
variation and evoking bell peals in variation sixteen with
great colour and verve. The complex fugue - Brahmsian in
orientation once more – is similarly mastered. It ends a
wholly admirable disc.
are other alternatives for the sonata. I’ve long admired
Waldemar Malicki for his performances of Polish repertoire
on Dux and other labels – a first class player who should
be rather better known, not least in his collaboration with
violinist Piotr Pławner. He’s recorded it on Accord
but his couplings are different. His performance is excellent
if not perhaps quite as sweeping as Plowright’s and not as
well recorded. I’ve not heard Wodnicki on Altarus and again
his couplings differ – the Tatra Album Op.12 and Miscellanea
Op.16. Kupiec has recorded the Op.23 Variations and Fugue
for Koch Schwann but once more the couplings are much different.
being the case Plowright’s industry and acumen holds a prominent
place. Splendid engineering and good notes by Adrian Thomas – I
found myself agreeing with each salient descriptive point
he made – complete a class package.
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