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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Piano Concerto (1961) [21.30]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)

Piano Concerto (1987) [24.19]
Pavel SZYMAŃSKI (b.1954)

Piano Concerto (1994) [19.50]
Ewa Pobłocka (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic - National Orchestra of Poland/Kazimierz Kord
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Feb 1996 (Lutosławski), June 1998 (Panufnik, Szymański). DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 046-2 [55.35]

Three Polish piano concertos of the twentieth century. All are very much of that century.

Panufnik differs from the other two in that he wrote this work in England whence he had fled after the pogroms of the late 1940s. For several years he conducted the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He wrote the concerto in Duckenfield and conducted the premiere given by the CBSO on 5 January 1962. The soloist was Kendall Taylor. The work was revised in the early 1980s and the composer conducted the BBCSO in this new version on 8 July 1983. The pianist then was the redoubtable John Ogdon. I heard the earlier version in a BBC Scottish SO 65th birthday concert in the 1970s when the soloist was Malcolm Binns. Ogdon was however a most apposite choice of soloist for he relishes the keyboard cannonade and orchestral salvoes that erupt throughout the first and last of three movements. This is violence without much dissonance - one can look at Peter Mennin's 1960s Piano Concerto (also wondrously championed by Ogdon on CRI) for a parallel certainly in the context of the splenetic activity. With Panufnik peace is rarely far from action and so it proves with the meditative Molto tranquillo. He convinces you that this peace has always been there continuing under the brutality of battle but revealed when battles end. The piano part amid the modest string anthems is somewhat Bergian. The piano part in the finale is aggressively jazzy, active, on its toes. Pobłocka makes hay with this, surmounting all technical challenges. She has in her a superb Bartók cycle ... if only she can be lured back into the studio.

The Lutosławski skitters and swerves, chitters and moans, groans and rumbles, endlessly inventive in its virtuoso deployment of the full resources of an orchestra. It is almost as if this were by Messiaen without his fragrant spirituality. This is a work that is written in knowledge of the achievements of Penderecki and Sessions. There are though moments of high romance as in the presto at 2.19 where the hammered piano chords sur-top exciting orchestral writing suggesting some Rachmaninovian climax. The movements, of which there are four, are played attacca. My only criticism is that the fast music is all rather unremitting though much can be forgiven for the way the composer ‘engineers’ the last four exciting minutes.

 

Szymański's concerto is in one big movement which starts with sequence after sequence of note-groups like a Bach fugue deconstructed and reassembled with hesitations inbuilt. This retreats into an enchanted whistling kingdom rather like late Tippett in lyrical mood (middle movement of Triple Concerto). Melody is suggested not stated. A warm tense updraft of quiet high writing for the violins boils mercilessly upwards. This work impresses rather than endears and it suffers from an ending that happens rather than seeming ordained by all that has preceded it. Certainly a work to return to.

Rob Barnett

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