Paderewski: Piano Concerto, Polish Fantasy / Kenner, Niesiolowski, Podlasie Opera Orchestra
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PADEREWSKI Piano Concerto. Polish Fantasy • Kevin Kenner (pn); Marcin Na??cz-Niesio?owski, cond; Podlasie Op O • DUX 733 (55:40)
Well, I’ve certainly been immersed in Paderewski lately … at least, Paderewski at one or two removes, which is not the same thing as the real deal. First, there was the Homage to Paderewski set on Hyperion 67903, which I reviewed in Fanfare 35:4, and now this new recording of his concerto and Polish Fantasy. As I expected, the concerto is very much in the big, late-Romantic mold of Brahms, Rubinstein, and other composers, but it’s a solid piece built around native Polish rhythms and with an interesting and exciting development section in the first movement. (In fact, at one point a solo piano passage sounds a little bit like a Russian folk song.) Although it is said that the second theme is an evocation of Chopin, it is an original melody and not one borrowed from that composer. The slow movement is even more delicate than Chopin’s andantes , almost Debussyan in its sparse use of the piano in the beginning and actually built around a three-part tune. Eventually, this delicate melody becomes more energetic, but never so much that the initial impression is forgotten. The lively rondo finale, based on a krakowiak, is likewise contrasted with a stately chorale that eventually caps the piece.
I find the Polish Fantasy an even more interesting work, having a more melancholy cast and somewhat related to Liszt’s Hungarian fantasies. It can be divided into four sections, each with its own character, though they are bound together by a mazurka-like motif. It is very nearly a concerto in itself, running over 21 minutes. I suspect that the composer refrained from calling it one simply because the four sections are played without a break, and such works in his day were almost always relegated to the “fantasy” category.
Kevin Kenner, despite his American origins, proves himself to be fully up to the task of interpreting this Eastern European music. Like all modern pianists, he eschews the slightly out-of-synch coordination of hands favored by Paderewski and many other pianists of his generation, preferring to play in a clean, rhythmically consistent manner, but he certainly gets the feel of Polish music very well. Of course, having a Polish orchestra and conductor helps, and I am more than a little amused to see that the orchestra hails from Bia?ystok (known as the “Jerusalem of Poland” because of its heavy Jewish population and the birthplace of Dr. Albert Sabin, immortalized by Mel Brooks with the name of his principal character—Max Bialystock—in his zany comedy The Producers ). All concerned play beautifully on this CD, giving us about as convincing a reading of these works as can be imagined. One can find more visceral and exciting readings from Janina Fialkowska, supported by the great Antoni Wit, on Naxos 8554020, and by the late, great Earl Wild (the concerto on Elán 2266 with Arthur Fiedler and the London Symphony, the Fantasy on Ivory 72010 with conductor Massimo Freccia), but this recording meets the demands of the music with a more convincing nationalistic flavor than Wild and less clattery sound than we get from Fialkowska’s piano. Recommended without hesitation for both the unusual repertoire and its presentation.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Catalog Number: DUX733
Composer: Ignace Jan Paderewski
Conductor: Marc Nalecz-Niesiolowski
Performer: Kevin Kenner