With this issue we get to No 59 in Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series. That’s an awful lot of concertos, and although the series has included Saint-Säens and Rachmaninov, the vast majority of works have been obscure, neglected or (in the current case) completely unknown.
The two Polish composers represented here were musicians of local reputation: highly capable but not notably individual. Aleksander Zarzycki was the older (1843-1898). His Grande Polonaise was composed in 1859, and while it has quiet sections and even a passage that sounds like French operetta, its basic aim is to imitate Chopin – for political as much as musical reasons. Chopin remains inimitable, however, and the piece comes over as a Polish imitation of Liszt. Zarzycki’s later Piano Concerto is a compendium of mid-century Romantic gestures, expertly assembled, but it lacks a true memorability that would set it apart.
Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921) is slightly better known (though I must confess not to me). His Piano Concerto of 1903, a sprawling work in three movements, shows a sophisticated harmonic and orchestral palette. While possibly overwritten, it contains several individual episodes, like the first movement’s coda in Straussian waltz time and the Polish dance form (a krakowiak) that dominates the busy finale. The piano part, while technically demanding, is entirely integral to the musical argument and not mere decoration.
Performances and recording could not be better. Jonathan Plowright’s formidable technique and sensitive shading at the keyboard is a major contribution to the disc’s success.