PADEREWSKI: Piano Concerto / Polish Fantasy (Antoni Wit/ Janina Fialkowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554020)
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Piano Concerto; PolishFantasy on Original Themes; Overture
An internationally famous virtuoso pianist, President of the newlyindependent Republic of Poland, Honorary Doctor from Universities as far apartas Lemberg, Cracow, Oxford and Yale, Paderewski also had time to become one ofPoland's leading Romantic composers of the late nineteenth and early twentiethcenturies. Although perhaps still a minor composer on the European standard ofgreatness, his music somehow fits neatly in the gap between his two otherfamous compatriots, Chopin and Szymanowski. Always attractive and sometimesrather more, this is music that reflects the patriotism of its countrymen aswell as the rich sonorities of the time.
Ignacy Paderewski was born on 6th November, 1860 in the eastern part ofPoland, in the small town of Kurylowka on the river San, close to the Ukrainianborder. His mother died when he was at an early age and he soon became subjectto his father's political, revolutionary idealism. At eighteen, he graduatedfrom the Conservatory in Warsaw and became a professor of piano there. Twoyears later, having moved to Berlin, he took up studies with Friedrich Kiel andHeinrich Urban (teacher also to the late romantic composer Karlowicz). Afterreturning home to Poland, he gave piano recitals in Cracow before moving on toVienna where he began studies with the famous virtuoso pianist, Leschetizky.
Paderewski's own career as a legendary pianist was now set to take offand he made his solo debut in Vienna in 1887, followed by Paris a year laterand capped by a hugely successful Carnegie Hall recital in New York in 1891.
His name was soon to become known throughout the whole of the musical world. Atour of the USA followed consisting of a remarkable 117 recitals. It was onlythe rather cool English public which seemed, at least at that stage, to be nonetoo enthusiastic about his playing.
It was hardly surprising that Paderewski should consider writing some ofhis own music to demonstrate that pianistic talent and he completed a pianoconcerto in 1888 and the Polish Fantasy five years later in 1893, aswell as a sonata for solo piano and various short pieces. The Piano Concertowas first performed by the Russian pianist Anna Esipova, wife of Leschetizky,under one of the most famous conductors of the time, Hans Richter, and becamean immediate success.
Poland at that timewas struggling for freedom and a national identity, and Paderewski turned hisattention to the subject of a national opera. This became Manru, basedupon Kraszewski's House Outside the Village. The opera was completed in1900 but after early performances it disappeared from the stage without trace.
A similar patriotic vein can be found in his rather unwieldy but still somehowimpressive nationalist Polonia Symphony, first heard in Lausanne inSwitzerland in 1908 and a short time later given in Boston by Max Fiedler.
In 1910, Paderewski appeared in the opening concert of the WarsawPhilharmonic and gave arousing speech urging independence for his nativePoland. Although he spent much time abroad, including stays in Switzerland andthe United States, his patriotism and national concerns led him to become newPoland's first prime minister in 1919, after the end of the First World War.
By 1922, he had resumed his concert career and undertook the huge taskof editing all of Chopin's works, but when war broke out again and Hitler'stroops marched into Poland, Paderewski fled to the United States where he died,in exile, on 29th June, 1941. He was buried in the Arlington Cemetery inWashington DC.>
The two works for piano and orchestra make an obvious pairing. Both arevirtuoso pieces in the grand style and have attracted famous pianists over theyears. It is a tribute to their rich vein of melody that they still hold aplace on the edge of the pianist's repertory today, when exhibitionism is notas popular in the concert hall as it was some years ago.
The Piano Concerto opens with a bold orchestral flourish, whichsoon leads into a folk-like theme in the orchestra before the piano boldlytakes up the lyrical mood. The writing for the solo instrument becomes more andmore virtuosic until the grand-gestured romantic concerto style is established,continuing to dominate the opening Allegro, The following Romanza openswith a lovely theme in the winds after which the piano adds a gentlecommentary, entering into a mood reminiscent of the lyrical pages of Chopin,then embroidering the orchestral melody and growing more sumptuous as theclimax is reached before finally fading away. The final Allegro molto isa bravura Polish dance with plenty of opportunities for solo pyrotechnics.
The single movement Fantasy on original themes begins with a slowfolk dance interrupted almost at once by a piano flourish and a short cadenzasetting the mood for a piece full of tuneful melodies and dances juxtaposedwith the soloist's sometimes languorous, often virtuoso commentaries.
Swaggering themes alternate with lyrical, quieter passages and exacting solosin this twenty-minute display piece.
The Overture is relatively little-known. It opens with aplaintive melody which gives way to a jolly dancing theme in the woodwindalthough the Polish element here often seems to owe something to the earlyGerman Romantics. The two themes are developed together, taking turns atprominence in a lilting dance mood up to the end.
Janina Fialkowska was born in Montreal to a Canadian mother and a Polishfather, and began to study the piano with her mother at the age of five. Shelater studied at the Ecole de Musique Vincent d'Indy, and at the University ofMontreal, where she completed her Master's degree by the age of seventeen. Thefollowing year she won first prize in the Radio Canada National Talent Festivaland travelled to Paris to study with Yvonne Lefebure. A year later she enteredthe Juilliard School of Music in New York as a pupil of Sascha Grodnitzki,whose assistant she later was for some five years. In 1974 her career waslaunched by Artur Rubinstein, after her prize-winning performance at hisinaugural Master Piano competition in Israel. Since then she has enjoyed ahighly successful career, winning a particular reputation for her Chopin andLiszt performances and for her interpretation of Polish music of the twentiethcentury. She appears regularly with the foremost North American orchestras,among them the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic,Philadelphia and Pittsburg Symphony Orchestras. She has won special recognitionfor a series of important premi?¿res, most notably the first performances of anewly discovered Liszt piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inMay 1990. She also gave the world premi?¿re performances of a concerto by LibbyLarsen and the North American premi?¿re of the concerto by Andrzej Panufnik.
Janina Fialkowska recently founded 'Piano Six', a group of internationallyrenowned Canadian pianists who are committed to a ten-year programme to bringimportant recitals to places in Canada where classical music performances are ararity.