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Wladyslaw ZELENSKI (1837-1921) Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op.60 (1903) [34:00]
Aleksander ZARZYCKI (1834-1895) Piano Concerto in A flat major, Op.17 (1859-60) [17:21]; Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op.7 (1859-60) [10:03]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. June 2012, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow
HYPERION CDA67958 [61:26]

Amazingly enough, this is now volume 59 in Hyperionís gargantuan Romantic Piano Concerto series. Two Polish composers and contemporaries share the billing.
 
Letís take Wladyslaw Zelenski first. He was born near Cracow he studied there and in Prague and Paris. Back in Cracow he began a distinguished pedagogic career - succeeding Moniuszko as composition teacher - before moving to an even more distinguished position in Warsaw. He was soon back in Cracow however and was eventually to become Director of the Music Conservatoire. So, a strong academic pedigree and clearly an important teacher Ė his most famous pupil was Stojowski.

The foregoing brief biography comes from a review of his chamber music on this site and Iíve also reviewed a deal of his solo piano music. Itís smaller-scaled Zelenski that Iíve usually come across Ė his violin sonata is another such work Ė rather than his concertante side so it was good to encounter the big-boned 1903 Concerto in E flat major. Dedicated to the virtuoso Ignaz Friedman, itís cast in heroic-romantic mould. The piano enters early and thereís rich Slavonic lyricism in the second theme, with hints of Tchaikovsky and Saint-SaŽns. Heís careful not to swamp the rhetoric in saturated string tone and conductor Lukasz Borowicz and Hyperionís engineers do well to explore the exchanges between piano and wind principals. Thereís a slightly antique, but very melodic dance at the heart of the slow movement which is a theme and variations, also sporting a flighty allegretto vivace and a warmly textured Quasi adagio. The finale relinquishes introspection with a lively Krakowiak, neatly syncopated, and with a well-judged contrasting slow section accompanied (once again) by attractive wind commentary. Throughout, Jonathan Plowright shows considerable stylistic affinity with the music and plays with fire and poetry. This is apparently the first ever recording of the work Ė and itís more than welcome.
 
His confrere Aleksander Zarzycki was the first director of the Warsaw Music Society in 1871 and had been, in younger days, a fine pianist. One of the pianists he subsequently engaged for a post at the Warsaw Music Institute was Paderewski. Violin fanciers may know his name, ironically, more than pianophiles because his Mazurka in G, Op.26 was a favourite encore of David Oistrakh and was also recorded no fewer than three times by the Polish fiddler Bronislaw Huberman. Others who left recordings of it include Isolde Menges, Ossy Renardy, Zino Francescatti and Wanda Wilkomirska. So, a good pedigree for violinists, but what of the strange A flat major Piano Concerto composed in 1859-60? This sounds like Ė and probably is - a torso, shorn of its opening movement, as it begins with an Andante. Dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein the whole affair seems shrouded in mystery, as the published version of the concerto was apparently a revision. What of, and how much, seem to be unknown. So we have two-thirds of a concerto, realistically speaking, but this is all that we have. The slow movement is lyrical though not especially distinctive. But the finale is, like his compatriotís, a Krakowiak but one which makes the rhythm very much more overt and even galumphing. Itís a stop-start rhythm anyway, but Zarzycki takes great delight in its abrupt, disjunctive qualities. His Grande Polonaise was completed in the same year as the concerto and is couched in rather sprightly operatic fashion. Itís all a bit obvious and bombastic. Plowright does what he can with it.
 
Adrian Thomasís notes are good and the recording quality is first class.
 
So this is a most interesting but occasionally perplexing coupling. I strongly advocate the Zelenski, and will leave the question of Zarzycki to you.
 
Jonathan Woolf

See also review of the 24/96 download by Dan Morgan


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