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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

CD Spotlight

Paderewski's works for piano and orchestra

The fifth of the Romantic A minor piano concertos, Paderewski's (Vienna/Paris 1888-89, dedicated to his teacher Leschetizky, premiered in Vienna by Anna Esipova [teacher of Barere, Prokofiev and Schnabel] with Hans Richter) enjoys the occasional modern resurrection. In 1970 Earl Wild made a trail-blazing analogue LP with Arthur Fiedler and the LSO (Elan 82266: it was Fiedler who'd first conducted it on disc - in around 1940, with Jesus Maria Sanroma and the Boston Promenade Orchestra); twenty-one years on Piers Lane recorded it digitally with the BBC Scottish SO under Jerzy Maksymiuk (Hyperion CDA 66452); during his playing days, Ronald Stevenson used to offer it regularly. Ewa Kupiec - who studied with Nelly Akopian, Lev Naumov and Victor Merzanov, training for a time in London at the Royal Academy of Music - brings a desirably authentic Polishness and big pianism to its pages. Brisker than Lane (appreciably so in the finale - 7'12" to his 8'32"), and more sonically immediate, she's got the measure of the music's period canvas, revelling in its bravura as much as its poetry, all awhile unassumingly underlining points of creative unity. Drawing on krakoviak, kujawiak and mazurek, the Polish Fantasia on Original Themes (Yport, Normandy 1893, G sharp minor/A flat major, premiered at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival) is a nationalist potpourri in the tradition of Chopin's or the Liszt Hungarian Fantasy, but on a broader, more imposing three-movement scale. Resisting rhetorical or bombastic extremes, Kupiec makes an excellent case for it. Hugo Wolff, the distinguished American Principal Conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, supports as musically as he always does. Readable German-language liner notes from Josef Manhart, responsibly translated.

Never a critic to stay on the middle of the fence, GBS liked neither work, even less their composer's playing of them, saying so invectively. 'Paderewski uses the piano merely as a means to appease his musical rage or gratify his fancies, handling it with all the licence of a master who has hired it for his pleasure, and cares not a scrap for its feelings. He is a young man of prodigious but most uncompassionate ability, this Paderewski: a sort of Richard III' (The World, November 26th 1890, reviewing the Concerto's Crystal Palace English premiere). 'I do not want ever to hear that Concerto again [our italics]. It is riotous, strenuous, bold, vigorous, abounding in ready-made themes and figures, scored without one touch of sympathetic feeling for any instrument - least of all the pianoforte, pardonable on the plea of youth and stimulating wilfulness in the first movement, clever and pleasing in the andante, and vulgar and cheap in the finale, which repeatedly made me rub my eyes and ask myself whether I was not really in the Empire Music Hall listening to a rattling ballet scene ... the most exasperating feature of the work is that, with all its obstreperousness, the form is timidly conventional' (The World, June 21st 1893, reviewing a Philharmonic Society performance, 'by desire'). '... it offends all my notions of artistic economy to see Paderewski the first-rate player thrown away on Paderewski the second-rate composer. That Fantasia does not contain a bar of pianoforte music of the highest class [our italics]: it is brilliant, violent, ingenious, here and there romantic... Now that I have worn out the somewhat obvious charms of the themes, I care for little more than the careful and intelligent workmanship. As for those flashy rapid traits, played on a piano which has been spoiled to make them practicable, they are lost on me: Liszt, and even Tausig, in spite of his vulgar vandalism, were more amusing in this department. People who challenge musical criticism in a double capacity put me in a difficulty... [Paderewski's] playing of his own works is a waste of his finest powers' (The World, May 9th 1894, reviewing a Philharmonic Society performance, 'by special request of the Directors').

Was he right? Judge for yourselves.


Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 17
16'07"/9'32"/7'12" - TT 32'51"
Polish Fantasia, Op 19
9'50"/3'59"/9'05" - TT 22'54"

Ewa Kupiec, piano
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hugo Wolff

Recorded: June 1998. Venue: Grosser Sendesaal, Frankfurt
Executive Producer: Medi Gasteiner-Girth. Recording Producer: Richard Hauck
Balance Engineer: Thomas Eschler. Editor: Ulrike Wilckens

KOCH Schwann 3-6550-2 DDD stereo
co-production with hr

CD Liner notes: Josef Manhart, English translation Susan Marie Praeder


Copyright © Ates Orga, July 2nd 1999

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