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Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
The Very Best of Paderewski
rec. 1996-2010, date of Paderewski piano roll recording not specified
DUX 1300 [70:19 + 62:15]

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was, in the course of his long life, a man of many parts. He was, of course, one of the foremost and best-known virtuoso pianists of his time, cultivating, as was the way back then, an exaggerated Romantic image with his wild, flowing locks and air of vaguely Mitteleuropean exoticism. That, in turn, brought him fame in another sphere as a somewhat unlikely film star: the credulity-stretching conceit of Moonlight sonata (1937) is that his playing is enough in itself to bring together not just one but two sets of star-crossed lovers. Earlier on, in the wake of the First World War, Paderewski had found time to serve as both Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the newly-created Polish Republic. And, primarily in the 1880s and 1890s, as this two-disc set from the Polish Dux label usefully reminds us, he had been a composer of, if not necessarily great originality, at the very least considerable skill and accomplishment.

Paderewski's music encompassed a wide range of compositional forms. Some works—solo piano pieces and songs, for instance—were small scale and intimate. Others, including a piano concerto, a lost violin concerto and a symphony, were more ambitiously conceived. This new compilation—which frequently recycles previously released material already reviewed here on MusicWeb—claims to offer us the "very best" of Paderewski and reference to Małgorzata Perkowska's list of his compositions suggests that it's not only a pretty representative sample but, given that the composer's output wasn't actually all that vast, quite a comprehensive one too. No fewer than four of his five extant orchestral pieces are included, for instance, with two—the G major suite for strings and the Polish fantasy—heard in full and the other two in substantial movement-long excerpts. Given the inevitable constraints of space, we've certainly been provided with enough material to get a good idea of what Paderewski the composer was about.

With the exception of the suite for strings, the piano provides the main focus for the tracks on CD1. The two solo pieces make an interesting pairing. The op.14 minuet was Paderewski's best-known and most popular composition during his own lifetime, even though, annoyed by repeated requests to play it, he eventually came to dislike it. Something more than a well-constructed pastiche—it was published under the umbrella title à l’Antique—its appeal is obvious. The op.10 Love song, on the other hand, is a lyrical enough declaration of intent, though its respectably Victorian emotional reticence is apparent when it is compared to the op.16 melody in G flat major. The addition of a violin alongside the piano makes the latter, at least to our own 21st century sensibilities, a piece that is much more convincingly "romantic" in tone. An altogether different example of Paderewski's piano music is the substantial Tatra album for piano four hands. Inspired and strongly influenced by the composer's encounter with the folk music of southern Poland's Podhale region, it was apparently found somewhat crude and unsophisticated by contemporary concert audiences but, as performed here by Duo Granat, its vitality and lively air of rural good cheer—five of its six movements are designated, at least in part, allegro—are immensely appealing.

Moving on to music for piano and orchestra, we are first offered the finale of Paderewski's sole piano concerto. Even without its two preceding movements this makes a jolly enough stand-alone romp and soloist Kevin Kenner, first prize winner in the 1990 International Chopin Competition, plays it for all it is worth and then some. The Lisztian Polish fantasy is, at 25:43, easily the most substantial piece on the disc. You'd be hard put, I think to distinguish it from any other of the zigeuener-ish concertante pieces that were so popular in the late 19th century, though, like most of those, it has a certain winning if facile charm. Unfortunately, this particular performance doesn't match that of the concerto finale. Somewhat reserved and hesitant, especially in its first half, it is rather short of excitement. At the climactic point (24:19 onwards) Paderewski surely intended to bring the roof crashing down; here there is hardly a crack to be seen in the gypsy caravan's ceiling. Nine years ago I reviewed a performance of the Polish fantasy from Ian Hobson with the Sinfonia Varsovia/Jerzy Maksymiuk. I also have on my shelves a 1964 performance by Regina Smendzianka and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislaw Wislocki (Olympia OCD 305). Compared to each of those, Elżbieta Wiedner-Zajac and the Orkiestra Filharmonii Ślaskiej/Mirisław Jacek Błaszczyk make rather heavy weather of the piece and their account on this Dux compilation is not to be preferred.

The only music on CD1 that doesn't feature a piano in some form or another is the G major suite for strings. A brief work, coming in at less than 11 minutes, the first three of its four movements—designated allegro molto, tempo di marziale and scherzo—are relatively homogenous in tone. Only the finale adds a contrasting, more contemplative, mood, even if the fact that its opening theme bears a surprising yet distinct resemblance to Pachelbel's canon may, at that point, bring an inappropriate smile to the face of a modern listener. Nonetheless, it's an enjoyable piece that, taken on its own terms, displays another convincing aspect of Paderewski's compositional skill.

CD2 brings us another mixed programme of more solo piano pieces, substantial extracts from both a sonata for violin and piano and a symphony, a selection of songs and a duet for soprano and tenor from a three-act "lyrical drama".

Paderewski's symphony in B minor has been an occasional feature of the CD catalogue for many years. The Pomeranian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of Bydgoszcz, conducted by Bohdan Wodiczko, recorded it in 1973 in an abridged version (52:29) that lost about 20 minutes from its anticipated running time. That performance was subsequently released on the Olympia label in 1988 (OCD 305). A decade later, in 1998, Jerzy Maksimiuk led the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in an uncut (74:21) account for Hyperion. That one moved my colleague Rob Barnett to prose of the deepest purple ("Melodramatic brass call blackly across stygian cataracts and Cimmerian chasms..."), though it failed to inspire much enthusiasm on the part of fellow reviewer Colin Clarke. This Dux performance of just the slow movement is taken from yet another account of the complete symphony that was also reviewed by Rob Barnett. Happily, he found that particular performance from the Orkiestra Symfoniczna Akademii Muzycznej w Krakowie under Wojciech Czepiel in no way inferior to the Hyperion recording that he'd so admired just a few years before. I'd go even further and say that, in regard to just the slow movement—which is all I have heard of the Dux release—I’d put Czepiel's idiomatic account just ahead. Perhaps, as Rob plausibly suggests, a native Polish orchestra gives his performance the edge.

Of the five pieces for solo piano, the immediately-appealing lively pieces come off best, with the vivacious Fantastic Krakowiak making a particularly strong impression as performed by Marek Mizera. Jonathan Woolf has previously lauded a Dux selection of Elżbieta Guzek playing Paderewski and the pieces we hear on this new collection—including a couple of mazurkas delivered idiomatically yet with great refinement and subtlety—are more than enough to support his verdict. More reliant on atmosphere, the two slower, more contemplative pieces—the B major melody and the B flat major nocturne—inevitably find it more difficult to make an impression when heard in the context of a pot pourri compilation like this one. Both, however, are very well executed here by, respectively, Ms Guzek and Kevin Kenner.

Violinist Konstanty Andrzej Kulka and pianist Waldemar Malicki who gave us the op.16 melody in G flat major on the first CD return on CD2 with the finale to Paderewski's sonata in A minor op.13. Their passionate and virtuosic account proves to be one of the real highlights of the set and seems to have given equal delight to my colleague Jonathan Woolf who enjoyed it a great deal in an earlier incarnation.

The remainder of CD2 is taken up with music that involves voices, either in song or, evidencing the propensity of Romantic era composers to come up with newly-minted compositional nomenclature at the drop of a hat, a "lyrical drama". Twenty four Paderewski songs survive, with according to Ms Perkowska's list, one more having been lost and a number of others existing only in sketches. As well the sets of four op.7 and six op.18, both in Polish, there's a set of 12 op.22 with texts in French—which presumably made them more commercially viable to a pan-European market. Two one-off songs—the Polish Lily of the valley and the French Dans la forêt—complete the 24. We are offered six songs in all on this disc, all selected from the Polish-language repertoire. Unlike the piano pieces which Dux's producers have chosen to spread out almost at random over the two discs, they are presented here on consecutive tracks, so offering a better opportunity to identify the consistencies—or, indeed, anything notable in the way of variety—in their style and characteristics. The three sung by mezzo Anna Radziejewska derive from a 2007 recording that was reviewed very positively here by both Robert Hugill and Göran Forsling. The remaining songs come from the tenor Pawel Skałuba, whose 2005 performances do not seem to have been previously considered on this website. His accounts are of an equally high standard and I enjoyed both singers' performances a great deal. By the way, Dux's most recent disc of the complete Paderewski songs—with each delivered in the vocal part and key in which it was originally written—was also highly praised on its 2015 release by Göran Forsling.

The 1901 opera Manru is a melodramatic tale that encompasses adultery, magic potions, suicide and revenge. As might be anticipated, such scenarios bring onto the stage the likes of betrayed village girls, jealous hunchbacks and gypsies who are either violent renegades or adulterers (or both). As a result, the prudish bosses at London's Royal Opera House rejected Manru without even hearing Paderewski's suitably colourful score that was full of both Podhale and zigeuner influences: one only hopes that they felt suitably embarrassed after the opera's subsequent triumph in Dresden and then throughout Europe and North America. Here we are given an eight minutes long extract from Act 2, scene 6 (Manru was evidently a long night at the opera), where soprano Wioletta Chodowicz and tenor Janusz Ratajczak duet on the theme That slanderer rouses anger (and what are the odds that they're referring to the aforementioned envious hunchback there?) Actually, any anger is less apparent in Paderewski's music than a steadily rising sense of erotic fervour—“slow-blooming passion, wonderful stuff", as Rob Barnett puts it—that is, at times, almost Wagnerian in its intensity. Dux produced the opera's world premiere recording in 2001, but the beautifully performed excerpt in this compilation comes from a more recent one, released in 2013. Enthusiasts should seek it out—it’s easily found in the usual internet sources—and the performance also seems to have been filmed because a DVD is available too. Anyone with a taste for heady, over-the-top fin de siècle Romantic opera will, I suspect, love it. By the way, the prelude to Act 3, the Gypsy march and Walter Rabl's attractive 18-minutes long arrangement Fantasy from the opera "Manru" for full orchestra, along with a selection of orchestrated piano pieces may be found on a Koch Schwann disc (3-1735-2) from the Cracow State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Roland Bader that's also worth seeking out.

As will be obvious from this review, Dux has, over the years, invested a great deal of effort in promoting Paderewski's music and this sampler now makes an excellent introduction for anyone who fancies exploring it. There's clearly much more to Paderewski the composer than just that minuet—which, as performed by Paderewski himself, brings CD2 to a close—and it's actually in the more ambitious musical forms, not least Manru, that he makes arguably the strongest impression. He also pens highly attractive and appealing—if not always indelibly memorable—tunes that struck chords with his audiences at the time and, when performed with the conviction exhibited by virtually all the performers on display here, still exert an immediate attraction today. This release thereby justifies the whole frequently derided idea composer-based "pops" compilations and is to be warmly welcomed.

Rob Maynard

Minuet in G major from Concert humoresques for piano op.14 (1885-1887) [4:05]
Melody in G flat major from Miscellanea - Série de morceaux op.16 (1885-1896) [3:37]
Allegro molto vivace - third movement from piano concerto in A minor op.17 (1882-1889) [8:00]
Tatra album for piano four hands op.12 (1884) (15:19)
Suite in G major for strings (1884) [10:55]
Love song from Album de Mai - scènes romantiques op.10 (1883) [2:39]
Polish fantasy in G sharp minor op.19 (1891-1893) [25:43]
Fantastic Krakowiak in B major from Concert humoresques for piano op.14 (1886) [3:26]
Melody in B major from Chants du voyageur op.8 (1881-1882) [3:01]
Mazurka in A major from Polish dances op.9 (1882) [2:21]
Mazurka in E minor from Polish dances op.5 (1881) [3:09]
Andante con moto - second movement from symphony in B minor op.24 (1903-1909) [15:11]
Nocturne in B flat major from Miscellanea - Série de morceaux op.16 (1885-1896) [4:04]
Finale: allegro molto quasi presto from sonata in A minor for violin and piano op.13 (1885) [8:06]
Szumi w gaju brzezina from Four songs for voice and piano op.7 (1882-1885) [2:15]
Lily of the valley, song for voice and piano op.7(a) (1882) [2:01]
Nad woda wielka i czysta from Six songs for voice and piano op.18 (1887-1893) [2:36]
Polały sie łzy from Six songs for voice and piano op.18 (1887-1893) [2:19]
Pioznka dudarza from Six songs for voice and piano op.18 (1887-1893) [3:10]
Tylem wytrwal from Six songs for voice and piano op.18 (1887-1893) [2:03]
That slanderer rouses anger from Act 2, scene 6 of lyrical drama Manru (1893-1901) [8:34]
Minuet in G major from Concert humoresques for piano op.14 (1885-1887) [3:54]
Waldemar Malicki (minuet in C major [CD1]); Konstanty Andrzej Kulka and Waldemar Malicki (melody in G flat major and sonata in A minor); Kevin Kenner, Orkiestra Opery i Filharmonii Podlaskiej/Marcin Nałecz-Niesiołowski (piano concerto); Duo Granat (Tatra album); Paderewski Chamber Orchestra/Jerzy Dybał (suite in G major); Marek Mizera (Love song and Fantastic Krakowiak); Elżbieta Wiedner-Zajac, Orkiestra Filharmonii Ślaskiej/Mirisław Jacek Błaszczyk (Polish fantasy); Elżbieta Guzek (Melody in B major, mazurka in A major and mazurka in E minor); Orkiestra Symfoniczna Akademii Muzycznej w Krakowie/Wojciech Czepiel (symphony); Kevin Kenner (nocturne); Anna Radziejewska and Mariusz Rutkowski (Szumi w gaju brzezina, Lily of the valley and Nad woda wielka i czysta); Pawel Skałuba and Waldemar Malicki (Polały sie łzy, Pioznka dudarza and Tylem wytrwal); Janusz Ratajczak, Wioletta Chodowicz, Chorus and Orchestra of Opery Nova w Bydgoszczy/Maciej Figas (Manru excerpt); Ignacy Jan Paderewski (minuet in C major [CD2])
Recording Locations/Dates:
Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bydgoszcz (minuet in G major [CD1], Tatra album, Polały sie łzy, Pioznka dudarza, Tylem wytrwal); Polish Radio S-2 studio, Warsaw (melody in G flat major, sonata in A minor, suite in G major, Love song, Fantastic Krakowiak, Chants du voyageur, Polish dances op.9, Polish dances op.5); Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Concert Hall, Białystok (piano concerto); Silesian State Philharmonic, Katowice (Polish fantasy); UPC Theatre, Kraków (symphony); Witld Lutosławski Polish Radio Concert Studio, Warsaw (Nocturne in B flat major, Szumi w gaju brzezina, Lily of the valley, Nad woda wielka i czysta); Opera Nova, Bydgoszcz (Manru); venue for Paderewski piano roll recording is unspecified. 25-27 September 1996 (Chants de voyageur, Polish dances op.9, Polish dances op.5); 1998 (minuet in G major [CD1], Tatra album); February-March 1999 (Polish fantasy); 12-17 December 2000 (symphony); 2001 (melody in G flat major, sonata in A minor); August 2001 (suite in G major); 2003 (Love song, Fantastic Krakowiak); September 2005 (Polały sie łzy, Pioznka dudarza, Tylem wytrwal); 21 October 2006 (Manru excerpt); March 2007 (Szumi w gaju brzezina, Lily of the valley and Nad woda wielka i czysta); 2010 (nocturne in B flat major); 9-15 November 2010 (piano concerto); date of Paderewski piano roll recording unspecified



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