Hommage à Chopin
Mili BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Impromptu on the Themes of two Preludes by Chopin (1907) [4:58]
Franz BRENDEL (1833-1874)
Hommage à Chopin, Op. 111/1 (1867) [5:33]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Studie (Hommage à Chopin), Op. 73/5 (1905) [1:48]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Ten Variations on a Theme of Chopin in C minor, BV213a (1884, rev. 1922) [10:49]
Edvard NAPRÁVNÍK (1839-1916)
Notturno (La Réminiscence de Chopin), Op. 48/1 (published 1894) [5:56]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
In poco di Chopin, Op. 72/15 (1893) [3:00]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Souvenir de Chopin (1946) [2:01]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Three Mazurkas, Op. 32/1 (1940) [5:48]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Hommage à Chopin (1949) [7:03]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Variations sur une thème de Chopin (1957) [21:27]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
La Lanterne mystique, Op. 66 (1888) – No. 3, Hommage à Chopin [2:00]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Walzermasken (1911) – No. 7, Profil (Chopin) [3:50]
Theodor LESCHITZKY (1830-1915)
Contes de jeunesse, Op. 46 (1902) – No. 9, Hommage à Chopin [4:41]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 30 July-1 August 2009. DDD
HYPERION CDA67803 [79:40]

The combination of top-flight artist, superb recording quality and truly imaginative, attractive programming seems quintessentially Hyperion. With this disc the enterprising record company has produced yet another winner.

The Balakirev is a triumph. In 1907, Balakirev was persuaded by Konstantin Tchernov to write down an improvisation on the Preludes No. 11 in B and No. 14 in E flat minor. The work contains moments of great subtlety as well as Islamey-like all-out virtuosity. Jonathan Plowright seems equally at home in either mode of expression. The way Balakirev keeps on referring back to the original Chopin music and then veering off from it into his own world is a characteristic of the piece, and the movement between the two is fascinating.

Franz Brendel’s “Pièce caractéristique” is in the flowing mode of Liszt - of whom Brendel was a pupil - and comes at times very close to Chopin’s own expressive world. The Grieg is a mere 1:40 and is part of the Op. 73 “Spannungen” (Moods). It is a gorgeous, delightful miniature that makes identifiable reference to Chopinesque writing without losing the identity of the composer.

The Busoni Chopin Variations, dedicated to Reinecke, are heard in the 1922 revision. Plowright conveys a sense of mystical secrecy about the opening bars, contrasting this with the granite-like strength of the louder address. The variations emerge organically from the statement of the original - itself preceded by an introduction. The scherzando variation is a particular delight in Plowright’s hands; his staccato touch is magnificent, his pedalling carefully considered. The fugal scherzo - around seven minutes in - is delivered in truly Mephistophelian mode.

The Nápravník Notturno comes in stark contrast. Improvisatory in nature, it contains a fairly adventurous middle section that raises the piece from the status of trivia. Tchaikovsky’s Un poco di Chopin is a truly Russian take on Chopin. It could come straight out of one of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Plowright is particularly impressive in the right-hand filigree the piece demands.

The Honegger is interesting – it comes from a film called Un ami viendra ce soir (1946) - a resistance story set in an insane asylum. The later musical language is evident, but Honegger finds a lovely sense of yearning here. The Berkeley Mazurkas that follow appear as a harmonic extension of the Honegger.

Villa-Lobos’s Hommage is in two movements, a ruminative, rather dark of mood Nocturne and a more muscular Ballade. As Jeremy Nicholas points out in his notes, there are distinct points of contact between this and Chopin’s Ballades - especially the First. Only the end seems rather abrupt.

The Mompou is the most extended piece on the disc, at 21:27. The idea of innocence recalled in music is central here. Mompou takes the Chopin Prelude, Op. 28/7 as his starting point for a magical exploration of harmony and texture - other references are woven in. This is surely the highlight of the disc, and Plowright is at his very best here. Interest never sags – it is almost as if Plowright is on a personal mission to persuade the listener of the greatness of the piece.

After that, the final two works emerge almost as encores. The Godowsky features some wonderful voicing by Plowright. The performance is most affectionate, as is that of Leschitzky’s charming Hommage à Chopin.

The recording is of the very first order, readily reproducing Plowright’s myriad subtleties. Superb.

Colin Clarke

The combination of top-flight artist, superb recording quality and truly imaginative, attractive programming seems quintessentially Hyperion. Yet another winner.