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Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op 60
1903; dedicated to Ignacy Friedman who gave the premiere in 1904

'Zarzycki & Żeleński: Piano Concertos' (CDA67958)
Zarzycki & Żeleński: Piano Concertos
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Movement 1: Allegro maestoso
Movement 2: Thème varié: Andantino quasi allegretto
Movement 3: Finale-Rondo: Allegro non troppo ma con brio

Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op 60
Relatively few of Zelenski’s works survive, and most are undated. The Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op 60, was written in 1903 and dedicated to the young Ignacy Friedman, who gave the premiere the following year. Although quite conservative in tone, it shows evidence of stylistic developments over the four decades since Zarzycki’s concerto. Its musical language especially shows that Zelenski was aware of developments in chromatic and concertante writing of the kind that had become popular in the music of composers such as Franck, Grieg, Liszt, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky.

The opening Allegro maestoso announces the sprightly if initially reserved main theme almost immediately. In fact the theme has traces of the dotted rhythm of a Polish mazurka, and it soon develops adventurously, shifting key frequently. The piano part is technically demanding, yet it is thematically driven rather than being merely a vehicle for display. A subsidiary theme emerges momentarily on the piano, before the first subject winds down. The molto cantabile second theme, played by the soloist against a low held note in the orchestra, has a notably Slavonic lyricism (more hints of Tchaikovsky). This merges with a sweeping development which brings Zelenski’s penchant for thematic counterpoint to the fore. Such is the tonal and thematic mobility that, despite partial recapitulations of all but the main theme, the impression is one of urgent development. This climaxes with a majestic cadenza before plunging into the home key and the return of the opening theme. There eventually ensues a two-part coda, each with its expressive surprise. The theme is first presented Più vivace, and then the music is subtly transformed into a brief but irresistible waltz.

The Thème varié that follows consists of a theme in G minor and five variations. The 2/4 theme combines the air of an eighteenth-century dance with a dark Slavonic turn in the melody. The first variation, led by the piano, is a fuller version, while the second, marked Allegretto vivace, sparkles with triplet rhythms. For the third variation, Quasi adagio, Zelenski gives the theme a sombre tone, deepening the exchanges between soloist and orchestra. The following variation, Tempo di marcia sostenuto, surrounds the theme with plentiful filigree work for the piano before the orchestra takes over in stentorian fashion. The final variation, Andante ma non troppo lento, ushers in G major and a full romantic treatment of the theme.

The passing suggestions of the krakowiak found in the second movement come bursting out in the folk-like exuberance of the rondo finale. The theme, however, is the same as that of the preceding movement (now in E flat major). The difference here is not just the tempo and accompaniment but also the syncopation of the new four-bar phrase that follows. Yet this answering phrase is less stable than it appears and the pianist starts to lead the music a merry dance.

A contrasting episode marked poco moderato introduces interesting chordal patterns, but the theme remains and, with the aid of a subsidiary idea, it is not long before the music surges forward again. The rondo theme and home tonality return twice more and continue to develop in unexpected and lively ways, with new counterpoints and exhilarating pianism. The final statement of the rondo theme is in the coda, Allegro vivace quasi presto. After the dancing coda of the first movement, it is fitting that the finale also ends this way, with a tarantella at the start of which Zelenski, true to his nature, fits in one last piece of counterpoint: a motif from the first movement.

from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2013

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Details for CDA67958 track 2
Thème varié: Andantino quasi allegretto
Recording date
29 June 2012
Recording venue
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Jeremy Hayes
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Hyperion usage
  1. Zarzycki & Zelenski: Piano Concertos (CDA67958)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: April 2013
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