Hyperion Records

Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor
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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