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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67630
Recording details: March 2007
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: January 2008
Total duration: 37 minutes 16 seconds

'The Second Concerto from 1898, also in three movements, is crowned by a hair-raising final Allegro con fuoco, a remarkable tour de force which, were it ever to be heard in a concert hall, would have you on your feet at the end cheering … Plowright enhances his glowing reputation as a musical alchemist of rare distinction with a transcendent technique' (Gramophone)

'Melcer's own abundant originality shines out frequently, notable in the marvellously poetic latter portions of the first movement of the C minor Concerto … Jonathan Plowright and Christoph König have done a superb job of absorbing Melcer's idiom. Care over both works' expressive rhetoric is everywhere apparent in performances that suggest affectionate familiarity … clearly a distinguished addition to this fascinating series' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Jonathan Plowright explores more of the Polish keyboard repertoire with these technically unforgiving but hugely enjoyable late 19th-century works by Henryk Melcer. The first bursts with melodic invention … the second requires tremendous stamina from Plowright, who plays almost continually, ending with a massive final allegro that will take your breath away. Christoph König and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra accompany with panache' (The Observer)

'This Hyperion release is simply stunning. Jonathan Plowright taps into the Polish vein with the required vision and power … the plaudits for Plowright … confirm a colossal musical mind and matching technical ease' (International Record Review)

'If the First Concerto is a heroic barnstormer in post-Lisztian mode, the Second … is flavoured with Chopinesque, neoclassical reminiscences, à la Saint-Saëns, and features an utterly enchanting second theme and infectiously dance-like finale. Plowright sounds completely unfazed by even the most note-splattered pages, throwing himself into the fray with abandonment and aplomb' (Classic FM Magazine)

'There's plenty to enjoy here … the excellent Jonathan Plowright performs with conviction. If you're an adventurous musical archeologist who's been enjoying the earlier installments of Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series, you'll definitely want this on your shelves as well' (Fanfare, USA)

'Jonathan Plowright is the right man to handle these minor monsters. No matter how many notes Melcer throws in his direction and how dense the orchestra's sound, Plowright fights his way to a triumphant victory … he is a constant joy … it is a pleasure to discover these rare Romantic piano concertos from the Hyperion stable—long may they continue' (Pianist)

'No matter what Melcer throws at him, Plowright not only emerges completely unscathed but sounds as though he's having the time of his life' (International Piano)

'The Second Concerto is on a larger-scale (37 minutes), the first movement opening with the piano alone, somewhat introspectively, in the manner of one of Brahms's 'late' piano pieces, with some decorous woodwind interjections lightening the mood, the strings increasing the pace with dramatic impulse. The piano, not stirred, continues to muse, but the combatants, if they are, then become heated together as the movement progresses—with plenty of pianistic fireworks—and without compromising the piano's ability to express regretful feelings in a shapely manner … the slow movement begins unexpectedly—with a trumpet solo, sounded as if from a barracks and somewhat 'Last Post', before the piano enters with a haunting melody that is to dominate—and will prove equally effective on full strings. The finale is scintillating and, at 3’14”, there arrives a majestic passage that could pass as a National Anthem! Throughout Jonathan Plowright plays with dedication, affection and technical aplomb and is well supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Christoph König. The recorded sound is superb—with ideal balance between piano and orchestra and between warmth, presence and clarity—and is transferred at a level that respects dynamic variety. Joseph A. Herter's booklet note is enlightening' (ClassicalSource.com)

'Jonathan Plowright provides a masterclass in dexterity at the keyboard, rising to meet all of the composer's challenges with a combination of scintillating virtuosity and deft sensitivity. The end of the C minor Concerto's opening movement is particularly telling, as he delivers the brilliant cadenza with utter authority before gently whisking the music away with a flourish of almost impossibly quick semiquavers. Plowright is adroitly partnered by Christoph König and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who more than do justice to Melcer's imaginative orchestrations whilst also relishing the frequent interplay between soloist and ensemble' (Musical Criticism.com)

Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor
composer
1898; Lwów; dedicated to Theodor Leschetizky; first performed in Leipzig in August 1898

Allegro moderato  [14'42]
Allegro con fuoco  [10'15]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It was while he was living in Lwów that Melcer finished his Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, which won the Paderewski Prize in the concerto category of the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Competition in Leipzig in 1898. This competition was for Polish composers only, and Melcer’s Paderewski Prize should not be confused with the prize of the same name also established by Paderewski at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States for American composers. Melcer was awarded the prize ex aequo with Emil Mlynarski, who submitted his Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 11. They shared the 500-rouble award for best concerto. Their colleague, Zygmunt Stojowski, however, was awarded the Paderewski Prize for best symphony and received an award of 1,000 roubles. The jury was chaired by the conductor Artur Nikish and also consisted of the composer and conductor Carl Reinecke, the cellist Julius Klengel and the music critic F R Pfau.

The Piano Concerto No 2 is in three movements and dedicated to Melcer’s Viennese mentor Theodor Leschetizky. It was first published by Léon Idzikowski in Kiev and Warsaw in 1913. The concerto’s first movement, Allegro moderato, is in sonata-allegro form and in triple metre. The second, Andante non troppo lento, is in three-part song form and in common time beginning in C major, using a motif based on the interval of the sixth. The finale, Allegro con fuoco, in duple metre with whirling rhythms and a dance-like character, is a sonata-rondo form. The premiere took place in Leipzig in August 1898 and its first Polish performance was heard later that year in Lwów. The first commercial recording was made by the pianist Teresa Rutkowska in 1980, with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Józef Wilkomirski. An earlier archival recording made for Polish Radio in 1952 by the pianist Józef Smidowicz (a participant of the Fifth Anton Rubinstein Competition in St Petersburg in 1910) and the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra in Katowice, with Jan Krenz conducting, was issued in 1999.

Melcer’s concertos demand technical virtuosity, versatility and stamina on the part of the pianist. About a minute into the first concerto, for example, the soloist is challenged with very rapid octave arpeggios in the right hand. In the second concerto the third-movement cadenza (where the second theme appears) poses another severe technical challenge for the pianist. Most of all, though, stamina is the main problem, especially in the second concerto where the pianist plays almost continuously. In her biography of her father Wanda Melcer quotes a review that appeared in the Kurier poranny following a performance in Warsaw of the second concerto on 30 October 1912. The critic Roman Jasin´ski wrote: ‘It is necessary to wonder why the Concerto in C minor does not find a permanent place in the repertoire [in Poland]. There are themes full of expression in Polish character that are developed so splendidly and broadly that they leave us enraptured … An unforgettable impression remains after hearing the Concerto.’ Ninety-five years later, the same remarks hold true.

from notes by Joseph A Herter © 2008

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