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Paul Orgel
Fanfare, January 2012

The Hough/Foster Scharwenka Fourth has been deservedly acclaimed, but I find François Xavier Poizat and Lukasz Borowicz on this new Naxos CD to be even better.

Naxos’s sound is richer and more resonant than Hyperion’s. Hough is, of course, a seasoned and polished virtuoso, but Poizat, at age 21, plays with a weightier, more colorful sonority, and also supplies the required dazzling fingerwork. The Poznan orchestra under Borowicz plays with real energy, and Naxos has captured the flattering acoustic of the auditorium of the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznan), where the sessions took place.

…this release is highly recommended for the Fourth. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

George Dorris
Ballet Review, October 2011

The three Polish Dances here are attractive and rhythmically alert, with elements of both Chopin and Liszt. The Fourth Concerto is a big melodic work, if even more an unabashed virtuoso display than Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, a near contemporary. It’s great fun, with a dancy second movement, a quiet Lento, and a rousing finale.

Poizat, a young French pianist, seems to enjoy the works’ demands, joined in the concerto by the Poznán Philharmonic under Ɓukasz Borowicz… © 2011 Ballet Review

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, September 2011

“Energy, harmonic interest, strong rhythm, many beautiful melodies, and much Polish national character—all that and much more is to be found in the music of Franz Xaver Scharwenka”, writes HV Hamilton in the pages of Grove’s (Fifth Edition). Reviewing Seta Tanyel’s Collins CD of Scharwenka’s First Piano Concerto (July/Aug 1992), Donald Manildi reminds us that this sort of effusive, heart-on-sleeve keyboard writing is “an exhilarating celebration of what the piano can really sound like when a skilled virtuoso-composer produces a brilliant vehicle aimed at nothing more (or less) than the pure enjoyment of soloist and audience”—a sentiment I was pleased to echo on reviewing Ms Tanyel’s splendid follow-up of 2 and 3 five years later (May/June 1997).

Why then is his music played so seldom in concert these days? The only piece you’re likely to recognize from recital programs is the ‘Polish National Dance’, Op. 3:1, one of the three offered here. Like Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor and Paderewski’s Minuet in G this one piece came to be not only Scharwenka’s “calling card” but also his curse, the one piece audiences clamored to hear. Certainly Scharwenka took great pride in his Polish heritage; and even when he strays far from home, as in the tarantella that caps the Fourth Concerto, his music is always highly emotional, deeply felt, and by any standard fully equal to anything by his far better known compatriots, Chopin and Paderewski.

In the Fourth Concerto Scharwenka compels attention right away with a massive orchestral tutti ending with a drum roll— reversing the order set by Brahms in his Dminor Concerto—that soon develops into a melody vaguely redolent of the Dvorak concerto written some 30 years before. There’s a broadly nostalgic episode with rippling keyboard configurations that will no doubt remind you of Liszt before the opening movement—by far the longest of the four—closes out in suitably dramatic style.

The Intermezzo, Allegretto molto tranquillo, starts out in the manner of a courtly minuet, with an unmistakable Gallic quality that suggests Saint-Saens; but it turns quite stormy midway in, with echoes of the very opening theme (something of a “motto” apparently) flailing about with abandon. Somber Wagnerian trombones introduce the dark Lento, which allows both soloist and audience time for respite and reflection before the grumbling bassoons lead into the finale, where the stark “motto” is miraculously transformed into a mercurial tarantella that offers the soloist little chance to catch his breath, alternating with a hearty, galumphing secondary theme before everyone rushes to the final bar, once again spewing clear Lisztian cascades right and left. How such a fine piece could remain almost unknown to modern-day audiences I find difficult to understand.

And I might add it’s also difficult to understand why Seta Tanyel never completed her Scharwenka concerto survey after the great success of the first two entries. Perhaps that decision was made for her by Hyperion—who later reissued 2 and 3 in their “Romantic Piano Concerto” series (Nov/Dec 2003): they already had a perfectly good performance by Stephen Hough in their catalog (Jan/Feb 1996). The two recordings—not just the performances—could scarcely be more different. Grenoble-born pianist François Xaver Poizat may not be a Pole, but he plays this music as you might expect Paderewski or maybe even Scharwenka himself to play it. Certainly the “veritable orgies of virtuosity” the composer found in the final tarantella pose no difficulty for Poizat, and yet at such a reckless pace one can only marvel that the strings don’t break under the strain. Hough, without suppressing the boisterous quality of the music in the least, gives you just enough space between the notes to bring out the inherent humor of the dance. An even clearer distinction may be found whenever Scharwenka waxes lyrical, as you can hear in the second subject of the opening movement: Poizat positively swoons over it, while his glacial account of the Lento—9:22 next to 7:24 for Hough—turns every melody into a disjointed series of notes. From a sonic standpoint, the auditorium of Adam Mickiewicz University where this recording was made seems fairly diffuse; certainly Lawrence Foster and his Birmingham players register with far greater effect and detail on Hyperion, while the massive sound of Hough’s instrument far surpasses anything put forth by Poizat. (Neither company identifies the manufacturer, but I’m willing to bet Hough is playing a Steinway and Poizat is not.)

Apparently the Polish engineers moved the mike a lot closer to Poizat when he was playing the three dances; I programmed them to come after the ‘Andante Religioso’ and had to jump up and turn down the sound. More to the point, why didn’t Naxos have Poizat offer more of them? (There are 16 in all.) Everyone who attends solo recitals with any regularity knows No. 1 (in E-flat minor), a heady mazurka; No. 8 in B-flat minor is charming and coquettish, and No. 15 in B-flat closes out the program in a veritable explosion of octave passagework that like the finale of the concerto would seem to me as a non-pianist well-nigh impossible, yet for Poizat is clearly mere child’s play.

Scharwenka’s ‘Andante Religioso’ would have made a splendid encore or “lollipop” for Beecham, had he but known of it. It’s the composer’s own arrangement of the slow movement from his Cello Sonata for strings divisi, harp, and organ and may well remind you of the famous ‘Air on the G String’ from Bach’s Third Suite. This warmly expressive episode is played beautifully here by the Poznan strings; yet once again they are to some extent stymied by the diffuse engineering and you can hardly even feel, let alone hear the organ—unlike the Sterling with Christopher Fifield and the Gävle Symphony that accompanies the only extant recording of Scharwenka’s C-minor Symphony (Sept/Oct 2004).

If you made it all way through our exhaustive Overview of overtures, it should come as no surprise that for me the real find here is the one to Mataswintha, Scharwenka’s only opera, perhaps dating from the late 1890s when the composer opened up a branch of his highly esteemed Berlin school of music in New York City. But despite great critical praise when it played at the Met, it soon faded into oblivion. It opens amid evocative horn calls and builds to a grand chorale in the brass before ebbing once again very much in the manner of Lohengrin. I’m happy to finally set aside my ancient aircheck with the Detroit Symphony under Karl Krueger, as this marvelous account by the Poznan players is all anyone could ask for.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Franz Xavier Scharwenka dates from that difficult period extending into the 20th century where his style of composition was totally outdated. The instant neglect that befell his music has robbed the world of some delightful music. Born in Poland into a modestly wealthy family, his formative years were spent in Germany, and it was there he made his concert debut in 1867 as a seventeen-year-old. From therein he created a career on both sides of the Atlantic, mixing his keyboard success with a series of compositions—mainly for piano—and a growing demand as a conductor. In later life he stated that he always felt a German, yet the only common thread through his changing style of composition was Polish dance rhythms. His Fourth Concerto from 1908 was a typical product of the late Romantic era with its extended and sprightly opening movement, followed by three shorter ones that end with the predictable jolly finale. Composed for solo piano, the Polish National Dances return us to his early years, the publication of the First making his initial breakthrough as a composer. Mataswintha was his sole stage work and came in direct descent from Weber. Initially well received, its American premiere was given at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Andante religioso is a reworking for harp, organ and strings of the second movement of the Cello Sonata. As a Scharwenka sampler the disc has a great deal going for it, particularly in the playing of the twenty-year-old Swiss pianist, Francois-Xavier Poizat, his dexterity dealing easily with a concerto once described as having too many pitfalls. The Poznan orchestra offer well rehearsed performances under Lukasz Borowicz, a conductor better known as the Music Director of Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

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