Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Symphony in B minor, Op. 24, Polonia (1903-08).
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk.
rec. Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, 22-23 January 1998
first issued as Hyperion CDA67056

Paderewski’s Symphony in B minor (Polonia) is a large, sprawling edifice of some 75 minutes duration cast in three movements. There was a plan to include a Scherzo but that never came to fruition).

The Symphony was begun in 1903 and premiered in 1908. There is an all-pervading darkness to the introduction (Adagio maestoso). A desolate oboe solo around 2:30 is wonderfully rendered by the BBCSSO’s principal; the bassoon’s retort is equally eloquent. Most impressive is the reflective tenderness Maksymiuk extracts from his players. The arrival of the Allegro vivace reveals a similarly grim tread, now determined and positively Lisztian in utterance. The sweetness of the string body is particularly noteworthy – there is no hint of the “second league BBC orchestra” about any of this. The shadow of Richard Strauss is audible in the background – many have detected Elgar, also.

This discursive first movement - it lasts just a tad over half an hour - requires a skilled lead, and Maksymiuk seems to know just how to give the reflective sections space without losing overall shape or momentum. It is Maksymiuk’s ability to convey directional force that enables the sprawling first movement to survive and, indeed, to fascinate. The players obviously agreed, as there is a feeling of real dedication here. The engineers perform miracles. Thick textures never congest but rather add to the complexity and, indeed, sophistication of it all.

The slow movement follows on rather too quickly – Hyperion could surely have given us just a little more of a breather … or perhaps they don’t expect anyone to listen all the way through? The central Andante con moto, at 17:01, is the shortest movement. The booklet notes rightly point to Rachmaninov (whose Isle of the Dead was just round the corner, in 1909). Maksymiuk creates a magnificently emaciated feel at some points that speaks of a vulnerability only hinted at elsewhere in the work.

The music moves straight into the finale. Here there is a marked exploratory quality to Paderewski’s invention. There are hints at indigenous Polish music without direct quotation. March rhythms imply the idea of national struggle; brass fanfares imply battle. It is in this movement that the present writer detects the most Elgarian influence. The raucous end is clearly designed to provoke applause, and the BBCSSO certainly manages to evoke the celebratory atmosphere required.

My colleague Rob Barnett reviewed the original Hyperion release for this site in 1999.

We should also note another modern recording of the Symphony on DUX 0304 and a rather more ancient and cut version on a long gone Olympia OCD305.

Paderewski’s canvas is vast, and one can only hold Hyperion in the highest esteem for this recording – and for reissuing it on the lower price Helios label.

Colin Clarke

Paderewski’s canvas is vast, and one can only hold Hyperion in the highest esteem for this recording – and for reissuing it on the lower price Helios label.