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Michał BERGSON (1820-1898)
Concerto symphonique for piano and orchestra, Op 62 (1868) [23:19]
Mazurkas Nos 1 and 4, Op 1 [7:54]
Grand polonaise heroique [9:43]
Polonia! Mazurka pour piano [2:18]
Luisa di Montfort, Op 82 (1847): Introduction for orchestra [3:59]; Scena and Aria for clarinet and orchestra [8:33]
Il Ritorno for soprano and orchestra [4:47]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk (soprano); Jakub Drygas (clarinet)
Orkiestra Filharmonii Poznańskiej/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. August-September 2020, Adam Mickiewicz University Auditorium, Concert Hall Poznan Philharmonic
DUX 1704 [60:35]

As we read in the liner-notes by conductor Łukasz Borowicz (well known from his many CPO discs), Polish composer and pianist Michał Bergson spent the greatest part of his life outside Poland and ended by retiring to England. The manuscript for his Concerto Symphonique (piano concerto) written thirty years before his death only came to light when recently unearthed in a London antiquarian bookshop. It seems that Bergson was the soloist for the premiere in Paris.

It’s a swirlingly flamboyant piece with a strong romantic punch. It’s by no means the fluffy inconsequentiality we might have feared. Schumann and Tchaikovsky are in Bergson’s vocabulary and there’s something familiar about the pleading woodwind contributions that suggest Eugene Onegin. The concerto is short at about 23 minutes and three movements. It is the kind of fare that would have made it a good fit for the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series. Dux even have the redoubtable Jonathan Plowright at the helm.

For the Concerto the strings of the Orkiestra Filharmonii Poznańskiej are a bit fierce and that is an impression made right at the outset of the piece. Still, this is quite eminently listenable with some very fresh invention in it. When the concerto is praised as “Not just a historical curiosity, but a fine romantic piano concerto that rewards the listener time and again” this is not hyperbole. Its pleasures, if not its style, are comparable with the similarly rewarding Scriabin Piano Concerto. I have to concede there are some stock reach-me-down gestures, usually in the opening bars of the three movements, but Bergson soon warms the progress of the music with much that is gracious and often unexpected. This piano concerto here receives its world premiere recording.

Plowright caresses into our listening orbit the fragile and gentle-handed opalescence of the two Op 1 Mazurkas. The second of these (in fact No 4) is slightly less feathery but takes just as affecting a toll on the listener’s senses. What happened to Mazurkas 2 and 3? The title Grand polonaise heroique suggests a Gottschalkian hothouse-spectacular but in fact it is in parts just as gentle as the two Mazurkas that precede it. It also has the second longest playing duration here. The score inhabits some intriguing bright and shadowed shallows. As expected, the music builds to imperial bravado from about 3:10 onwards and often confidently swaggers with elbows that jostle with the best Chopin from 3:40 onwards. For the little Polonia! Mazurka pour piano Bergson is moderately animated and he makes capital use of the interplay of quiet and gruff, piano and forte.

Next come three tracks of music from Bergson’s operatic works. The diminutive Introduction to the Opera Luisa di Montfort opens with a trumpet solo and a skein of contented ideas that intertwine. There’s also a skim of tragedy at the end, but nothing too terrifying and no hints of a mad scene. The Scena and Aria for solo clarinet and orchestra is a substantial piece, gale-blown at first then, at the hands of the clarinet, typically honeyed and healingly mellifluous. Here Bergson shows himself indebted to, or perhaps predictive of, the pieces for solo instrument and orchestra by Verdi, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Lastly comes Il Ritorno for soprano and orchestra. This is a fulsome and pout-lipped, operatically florid scena. Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk revels in all that oompah-accompanied vivacity and stratospheric display. You will want to hear it again.

Rob Barnett

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