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Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Piano Concerto No.1 (1925) [20:57]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Piano Concerto (1948) [22:51]
Julia Kociuban (piano), Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra / Paweł Przytocki
rec. 2019, Concert Hall of the Bacewicz Academy of Music, Łódź
DUX 1612 [43:46]

These two Polish piano concertos, written a quarter-century apart, make for diverting listening but LP playing time. Given the rarity of the concertos on disc, however, that might not prove an insuperable obstacle.

Tansman’s 1925 Concerto embraces impressionism in its opening paragraphs, quite vivid elements too, made the more so by virtue of Dux’s very forward sound perspective. Fortunately the piano is not spotlit, Mercury long player-style, so that orchestral detail is in no way suppressed and whilst the soloist is no primus inter pares - this is a real concerto not a concerto grosso piece – she has been sensibly balanced. Amidst the dramatic flourishes one can certainly detect Ravel’s influence but the powerhouse chording, the exuberance and rhythmic pattering are all Tansman’s. Folk inflection has to wait for the slow movement, a study in sophisticated songfulness, and slightly jazzy, before a scintillating scherzino – blink and it’s gone – leads on to a somewhat neo-classically enriched finale. Here one can feel Tansman’s exuberance, his confidence in the medium, and his brilliantly communicative joyfulness.

Grażyna Bacewicz wrote her concerto in 1948 for a competition organised by the Polish Composers’ Union to mark the centenary of Chopin’s death. No first prize was awarded but at least she won second prize. Of her concertos it’s those for her own instrument, the violin, that are the most popular; this piano concerto has been largely overlooked. Possibly its ‘occasional’ nature has told against it. Nevertheless, it’s valuable to have it recorded in tandem with the Tansman, dissimilar though they are, and in so spirited and forthright a performance as this. Stormy and neo-classical it is also, for Bacewicz, quite a flashy work not representative especially of her more ambiguous and tensile chamber pieces. Even in the calm opening of the central slow movement one soon finds things ratcheting up several notches, but the most personal music is also to be found here, a limpid piano soliloquy reminiscent of a nocturnal amidst a series of taut variations. One can certainly discern the outline of an Oberek amidst the toccata-like brilliance of the finale. It’s a work of virtuoso - externalised qualities, in other words, with shafts of intimacy.

Both concertos have been finely served by the young Julia Kociuban and by the gutsy performances of the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra under their conductor Paweł Przytocki. Still, another concerto wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Jonathan Woolf

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