It seems hard to countenance today but in 1941 it was possible for a man to pass into legend who was not only a composer and the highest-paid musician of his day but also the Prime Minister of his country. The country in question was Poland; the man: Ignacy Jan Paderewski. As a tribute to his charismatic genius, boosey and Hawkes commissioned an anthology from 17 of the leading contemporary composers, which forms the starting point for this fascinating CD.
The line-up of the great and the good forms a curious state-of-the-nation snapshot of music in the midst of WWII, for all of the composers were resident in North America at the time – some unable to return to their homelands. Represented here with distinction we find Bartók (cheating with the rehashed Three Hungarian Folk-Tunes), Milhaud, Castelnuovo-Tedesco (a charming mazurka), Goossens (a clever Homage based on Chopin’s C-minor Prelude), Martinu (another tangy mazurka) and even Britten, although the latter misunderstood the commission and composed a melancholy piece for two pianos. It’s good to see Australian-born Arthur Benjamin contributing an impressive, wistful Elegiac Mazurka. My personal favourite among many unknown gems was Stojowski’s delicate Cradle Song.
The excellent british pianist Jonathan Plowright presents this diverse compendium with great aplomb, tempering his style to suit the disparate gear changes required to travel from one composer’s style to another. His formidable technique is unquestionable, while his subtle mood painting lends interest to even the lesser works on offer.