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Jan Ignacy PADEREWSKI (1922-1984)
Suite in G major (1884) [10:47]
Nocturne in B flat major Op.16 No.4 (arr. Smolij) (1890-92) [4:13]
Four Songs, Op.7 (arr. Gumiela) (1882-85) [9:49]
Six Songs, Op.18 (arr. Gumiela) (1887-93) [14:50]
Douze Mélodies, Op.22 (arr. Gumiela) (1903) [30:49]
Alina Adamski (soprano: opp. 7 & 18)
Agata Schmidt (mezzo-soprano: op. 22)
Capella Bydgostiensis/Marius Smolij
rec. August 2020, Pomerian Concert Hall, Bydgoszcz, Poland
NAXOS 8.579085 [71:19]

With the exception of the early Suite in G major, all items on this CD are arrangements for orchestra (Nocturne in B Flat major), or for orchestral accompaniment of songs originally composed with piano. Since I usually enjoy orchestral songs, this suits me well.

My first experience of Paderewski’s music came when I was at university in the early 70’s, when Vox Turnabout issued their recording of Felicja Blumental’s performance of his Piano Concerto. It made an immediate impression on me, and its subsequent recordings have reinforced that liking. To my mind, it is easily the most memorable of his recorded works, and I have been mildly disappointed that of the other pieces by him that I have heard, none approaches it in memorability.

The Suite in G major was composed in 1884 when Paderewski was twenty-four, and was never performed in his lifetime; in fact, it remained incomplete, a fourth movement either never completed or lost. He composed it while studying in Berlin and is known to have expressed reservations about it. It is a pleasant, largely unmemorable piece that approaches memorability only in the andante second movement, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the main theme of the first movement of Vítĕszslav Novák’s Slovak Suite (1903).

The other orchestral piece is an orchestration of Paderewski’s Nocturne in B flat major. It became a popular miniature, netting the composer a significant sum from the publishing rights. The arrangement here is a pleasant four-minute listening experience.

The Four Songs Op.7 and Six Songs Op.18 span a busy creative period, during which he also composed the Piano Concerto and Violin Sonata together with various piano pieces. The four songs are full of allusions to folk music and present a natural flowing pattern. To my ears, none of them sounds individual in any way, and the same can be said for the Six Songs Op.18, although their performance in London in 1893 drew praise from the reviewer in the St. James Gazette, who found them to be ‘very beautiful, very Polish, almost exactly reflecting the spirit of poetry and the meaning of words’.

The soprano Alina Adamski has a lovely voice, and sings these songs beautifully, as well she might, having won the Paderewski Vocal Music Competition in Bydgoszcz in 2015.

The other songs, Douze Mélodies Op.22 date from the end of Paderewski’s compositional career, when his compositional style had changed, so much so that on first hearing, I sat up and took notice, so to speak. These songs are the most harmonically advanced of his oeuvre, wherein his traditional harmonic language is replaced by ‘a world of harmonic ambiguity and tonal ambivalence; a land full of dissonance and chromaticism’, to quote from the booklet notes. The notes claim that the orchestration ‘adds a new dimension that enhances the aesthetic of ambiguity and exoticism in a way that might be compared to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande’.

Not being familiar with the piano originals, I can only comment that the verses of the French poet Catulle Mendčs are effectively set, with the orchestra used imaginatively to point up the words.

The mezzo-soprano Agata Schmidt has a lovely, firm and clear voice, which she deploys to considerable effect. Like Ms Adamski, she too has won a prize for the best interpretation of a Polish Song at the International Moniuszko Vocal Competition in 2016.

The orchestra of twelve strings plays well and is spiritedly conducted by Mariusz Smolij, who orchestrated the Nocturne. In fact, the orchestra is to be praised for its initiative in commissioning the orchestrations of the songs recorded here.

The booklet notes are good, giving the reader an insight into Paderewski’s oeuvre, and whilst there are no texts and translations of the songs, both Polish and French sung texts can be found at the naxos website.

This entire CD is very welcome, and I have no hesitation in regarding it as a strong addition to the discography of Paderewski’s compositions.

Jim Westhead

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