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Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941) Symphony in B Minor Polonia (1903-1908) BBC Scottish SO/Jerzy Maksymiuk recorded 22-23 January 1998 HYPERION CDA67056 [74.21]



Paderewski's name lives on as a virtuoso pianist who was also a composer and who was also first Prime Minister of Poland (1919). This is a potent combination and guarantees him a place in musical trivia competitions.

Why else might we remember him? His piano concerto was recorded in the 1960s by Earl Wild on an early RCA LP (Symphony of the Air/Max Fiedler - Fiedler also conducted the premiere of the symphony in Boston in 1909). There have been other recordings of the piano concerto including at least one on Polski Nagrania (reissued on Olympia OCD398) with Piotr Paleczny. Piers Lane and the same forces have also recorded the concerto for Hyperion (CDA66452).

What of this Symphony? First of all it is a massive structure: two big movements (each as long as the first movement of Mahler's Third) sandwiching a 17 minute Andante con moto. This is an epic-scale, late romantic, discursive symphony as we soon discover.

The first movement opens with music evoking dawn high in the cloud-sea of mountains (my image not Paderewski's). The soft contours a wind-based theme suggest Sibelius. Melodramatic brass call blackly across stygian cataracts and Cimmerian chasms. Elgar and Strauss are fleeting presences. Paderewski does have a tendency to wander down byways (9.55) but his emotional skills make you forgive such meandering. The Mahlerian fanfares at 10:50 are like a peal of bells and at 21.40 a superbly poised and constructed dramatic section made me make a mental note to return to this symphony for more than one return trip.

The second movement begins in austerity. Along the way this Andante takes in a sweet violin solo which reappears at 13.57. The emotional climax of the movement is at 9.33. Paderewski is a master builder of the long climax and Maksymiuk lacks nothing in confidence in projecting the notes.

In the finale fanfares call out from dizzying battle ramparts. Gales seek refuge from Paolo and Francesca's circle of Hell and more than once you can almost see the Uhlans lances glinting in the winter sunshine as they gallop across the snowy landscape. Much of the writing is genuinely exciting. Flute writing of valorous romance accompanied by a side-drum is at 15.40. The finale is well furnished with gloomily satisfying fanfares and grand Slav temperament.

The recording benefits from a volume boost but once that is in place the recording is precise and muscular with enough resonance to capture the satin-richness of the string writing.

The BBC Scottish are in good voice as represented here. An orchestra in full cry on a grand romantic symphony is a sound to hear! They and Hyperion do not disappoint. As for Maksymiuk he conveys not a moment's doubt about his advocacy for and confidence in the music of his countryman.

Good notes (also in French and German) by Adrian Thomas.

A must-have for anyone who enjoys grand late-romantic symphonies: epic, romantic and, the most challenging of all, often memorable.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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