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8.554020 - PADEREWSKI: Piano Concerto / Polish Fantasy
An internationally famous virtuoso pianist, President of the newly independent Republic of Poland, Honorary Doctor from Universities as far apart as Lemberg, Cracow, Oxford and Yale, Paderewski also had time to become one of Poland's leading Romantic composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although perhaps still a minor composer on the European standard of greatness, his music somehow fits neatly in the gap between his two other famous compatriots, Chopin and Szymanowski. Always attractive and sometimes rather more, this is music that reflects the patriotism of its countrymen as well as the rich sonorities of the time.
Ignacy Paderewski was born on 6th November, 1860 in the eastern part of Poland, in the small town of Kurylówka on the river San, close to the Ukrainian border. His mother died when he was at an early age and he soon became subject to his father's political, revolutionary idealism. At eighteen, he graduated from the Conservatory in Warsaw and became a professor of piano there. Two years later, having moved to Berlin, he took up studies with Friedrich Kiel and Heinrich Urban (teacher also to the late romantic composer Karlowicz). After returning home to Poland, he gave piano recitals in Cracow before moving on to Vienna where he began studies with the famous virtuoso pianist, Leschetizky.
Paderewski's own career as a legendary pianist was now set to take off and he made his solo début in Vienna in 1887, followed by Paris a year later and 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. A tour of the USA followed consisting of a remarkable 117 recitals. It was only the rather cool English public which seemed, at least at that stage, to be none too enthusiastic about his playing.
It was hardly surprising that Paderewski should consider writing some of his own music to demonstrate that pianistic talent and he completed a piano concerto in 1888 and the Polish Fantasy five years later in 1893, as well as a sonata for solo piano and various short pieces. The Piano Concerto was first performed by the Russian pianist Anna Esipova, wife of Leschetizky, under one of the most famous conductors of the time, Hans Richter, and became an immediate success.
Poland at that time was struggling for freedom and a national identity, and Paderewski turned his attention to the subject of a national opera. This became Manru, based upon Kraszewski's House Outside the Village. The opera was completed in 1900 but after early performances it disappeared from the stage without trace. A similar patriotic vein can be found in his rather unwieldy but still somehow impressive nationalist Polonia Symphony, first heard in Lausanne in Switzerland in 1908 and a short time later given in Boston by Max Fiedler.
In 1910, Paderewski appeared in the opening concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic and gave arousing speech urging independence for his native Poland. Although he spent much time abroad, including stays in Switzerland and the United States, his patriotism and national concerns led him to become new Poland'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 task of editing all of Chopin's works, but when war broke out again and Hitler's troops 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 in Washington DC.>
The two works for piano and orchestra make an obvious pairing. Both are virtuoso pieces in the grand style and have attracted famous pianists over the years. It is a tribute to their rich vein of melody that they still hold a place on the edge of the pianist's repertory today, when exhibitionism is not as popular in the concert hall as it was some years ago.
The Piano Concerto opens with a bold orchestral flourish, which soon leads into a folk-like theme in the orchestra before the piano boldly takes up the lyrical mood. The writing for the solo instrument becomes more and more virtuosic until the grand-gestured romantic concerto style is established, continuing to dominate the opening Allegro, The following Romanza opens with a lovely theme in the winds after which the piano adds a gentle commentary, entering into a mood reminiscent of the lyrical pages of Chopin, then embroidering the orchestral melody and growing more sumptuous as the climax is reached before finally fading away. The final Allegro molto is a bravura Polish dance with plenty of opportunities for solo pyrotechnics.
The single movement Fantasy on original themes begins with a slow folk dance interrupted almost at once by a piano flourish and a short cadenza setting the mood for a piece full of tuneful melodies and dances juxtaposed with the soloist's sometimes languorous, often virtuoso commentaries. Swaggering themes alternate with lyrical, quieter passages and exacting solos in this twenty-minute display piece.
The Overture is relatively little-known. It opens with a plaintive melody which gives way to a jolly dancing theme in the woodwind although the Polish element here often seems to owe something to the early German Romantics. The two themes are developed together, taking turns at prominence in a lilting dance mood up to the end.
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