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
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.