Chopin Celebration
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano concerto no.1 in E minor, op.11 (1830) [37:10]
Grande valse brillante, op.18 (1833) [4:42]
Grande valse brillante, op.34 no.1 (1835) [5:13]
Grande valse brillante, op.34 no.2 (1831) [5:37]
Grande valse brillante, op.34 no.3 (1838) [1:56]
Grande valse, op.42 (1840) [3:39]
Valse, op.64 no.1 (Minute waltz) (1846) [1:38]
Valse, op.64 no.2 (1846) [3:13]
Valse, op.64 no.3 (1847) [2:55]
Valse, op.69 no.1 (1835) [4:07]
Valse, op.69 no.2 (1829) [2:48]
Valse, op.70 no.1 (1832) [2:57]
Valse in E minor, op. posth. (1830) [2:35]
Piano concerto no.2 in F minor, op.21 (1830) [31:36]
Marek Drewnowski (piano)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice/Antoni Wit
Directed by Ron Isted
rec. details not given
NVC ARTS 5051865 710622 [112:20]
Visit the website of Lańcut castle in the far south eastern corner of Poland (see here and you will find a link to “Records, documentaries and feature films”. Unfortunately, that turns out to be something of a misnomer, leading as it does to just a couple of old movie clips, neither of which is more than a minute or so long. The first, prefaced by a title-card that proclaims First short-of-cash now full-of-jewels, seems to be part of an old silent movie showing a thief escaping from (presumably) the castle, while the second, looking like it dates from the 1930s, depicts a group of bigwigs touring Lańcut and examining the estate’s bloodstock. Thankfully, this new DVD will now allow the website to show some rather more up to date material (even if it’s still not absolutely contemporary - the small print on the box indicates an original copyright date for this film of 1993.) The purpose of the whole exercise is, though, otherwise rather unclear.
From the fact that so much of the performance is overlaid by images of the castle, its grounds and artefacts, it would seem likely that this is primarily a marketing tool for purposes of promoting tourism - and a product to stock in the castle gift shop - rather than a film to showcase the artists.
That impression is only reinforced by the fact that so little attention has been paid to the needs of the music itself. The first thing that will strike you - as the camera gives us a brief initial tour of the grounds and some of the castle’s splendid interiors during the orchestral opening of the first concerto - is the very resonant accoustic in which it is being performed. Lańcut has an undeniably attractive appeal to the eye but gives the ear real problems whenever the full resources of the full symphony orchestra are deployed in one of its magnificent salons. In fact, after a while I found it necessary to turn the volume on my television down significantly in order to listen more comfortably through the sonic soup. It is worth noting that in the case of three of the waltzes for solo piano - op.64 nos 2 and 3 and op.69 no.1 - the sound, recorded in a small, more intimate theatre within the castle, emerges much more successfully.
Polymath Marek Drewnowski, lauded on the box cover as a successful “actor, film producer, music festival founder, music professor and conductor”, invariably plays the notes well enough and, unsurprisingly, sounds thoroughly idiomatic in this repertoire. But, in the E minor concerto in particular, whenever he appears on camera - as an increasingly welcome break from yet more shots of the Columned Salon, the Sculpture Gallery or the Turkish Apartment - he appears to be utterly emotionally detached from the music and almost to be just going through the motions. That is, though, perhaps an understandable response if you know that your contribution is to supply long stretches of “background music” to be played under images of old carriages, kitsch Victorian sculpture, portraits of obscure and long forgotten aristocrats and lots of clocks (the focus, naturally, of the director’s attention during the performance of the Minute waltz).
Conductor Antoni Wit is, on the other hand, a far more animated presence and leads the orchestra with character, warmth and distinction.
This is, then, probably a DVD for anyone who enjoys spending an evening at their neighbours’ house looking at slide shows of their latest holiday. Lovers of Chopin’s music will, though, do just as well by putting on a CD of one of their favourite performances and avoiding the distraction of those darned clocks.
Rob Maynard 

For anyone who enjoys spending an evening at their neighbours’ house looking at slide shows of the latest holiday