I first heard of the pianist Jonathan Plowright over twenty years ago when, while still at university, I stumbled across a recording of him playing Brahms piano music including the fantastic Third Piano Sonata in F minor. I was very impressed and have continued to obtain his recordings whenever possible. Therefore, I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to review his latest recording of music by the very little known and recorded Polish composer Ludomir Różycki, a composer whom I had heard of but not anything by him; at least until now although I see that Hyperion have his String Quartet. There's also a chamber music disc from Acte Préalable.
The disc starts with Różycki’s Ballade in G major for piano and orchestra; this begins with a lovely tune, carried on the flutes and after a very short period of time, the piano takes over. The piano introduction, to my ears, sounds similar to a grand Lisztian introduction. The piece overall is like a cross between Liszt and Tchaikovsky with a small amount of Richard Strauss thrown in. There is also a similarity in the writing and sound-world found in Moszkowski’s superb Second Piano Concerto Op 59. The composer seems rather fond of his brass and allows this to take a prominent role at various moments. The whole Ballade is immaculately recorded, the orchestral accompaniment is superb and the music is lovely. This is a thoroughly enjoyable 10 and a half minutes of music, well-constructed in a thoroughly romantic style. Although there is plenty of opportunity for some virtuosic playing, there are also several reflective and quiet sections which are wonderful and very well-orchestrated. The Ballade ends peacefully in the home key of G major.
Next, on a slightly larger scale and later in the composer’s lifetime, is the First Piano Concerto in G minor, published as his Op 43 in 1918. By this stage, he’d written several operas and some purely orchestral works. The work begins melancholically with some touching writing for strings and then, as with the earlier Ballade, the piano comes in with impressive Lisztian flourishes. The style is not vastly different to the Ballade but there are a few more unexpected key changes. The piano part is more integrated with the orchestral writing than in the Ballade meaning the whole piece sounds more mature. The first movement contains some lovely moments—the quiet passage around 6:30 is an example and the following section with some heavily virtuosic passages is incredible. The movement slowly winds down after this, ending with some lovely horn playing accompanied by the piano and woodwinds. The second movement of the concerto starts with some interesting string writing before the piano enters quietly. Here, the music sounds more modern than the first movement but no less lovely. The whole atmosphere of this second movement is one of tranquillity. The final movement opens with a large brass gesture and some interesting use of percussion. The movement is a bouncy Russian-sounding Allegro giocoso with the piano providing exclamations in between some rather mad and cheerful sounding orchestral episodes. The overall effect works and the main theme is a real earworm. After about two ebullient minutes, the piano accompanies the orchestra in a rather lovely flowing section before more virtuosity and the reappearance of the buoyant main theme. This leads to a fantastically mixed-up last minute of virtuoso piano and orchestral writing. It finishes with a somewhat short sounding flourish.
The Second Piano Concerto dates from much later when the composer was in his early sixties. Again, it starts with a slow melancholy theme on the strings. The atmosphere here is much more sombre and with more of a Russian flavour than in the two earlier works. There is a whiff of nostalgia here and the piano writing is much more restrained—at least to begin with. Around three minutes in, the music picks up and sounds even more Russian—lots of horns and some sinister sounding piano writing. After a minute or two of this, things subside and become far more peaceful. After some interlinking, around 7:30, things perk up noticeably with some nice dotted rhythms and some beguiling piano and orchestral interplay. This gives way to some very powerful horn writing in a modification of the preceding piano theme. Eventually, the piano takes over, leading the orchestra in a slow dance-like section before becoming more integrated again. Things continue like this for several minutes before becoming more agitated. There's a triumphant climax at around 13:00, just as the movement comes to an end. The second and final movement starts with a really jolly main theme, which, according to the notes can be compared to the Polish dance, the Krakowiak. This is a much happier piece—full of virtuosity for the soloist and interesting diversions provided by the orchestra. Things bundle along cheerfully with ever-increasing difficulty for the soloist and some work for the percussion as well. There is a charming quiet passage at around 3:00. This soon changes character and turns into a jolly effervescent piece which is bound to stick in your mind. The concerto ends, as might be expected, with a massive flourish for the soloist and a deluge of notes accompanied by the full orchestra.
Mr Plowright is fully able to deal with the fiendish sounding technical demands in these interesting works and equally at home with the more peaceful sections. It is clear from these excellent recordings that Różycki certainly knew how to write for piano and orchestra. The liner notes, by Adrian Thomas are excellent: very informative and they nicely place the composer in context with other contemporaneous composers and also the historical period in which he composed. Overall, this is another splendid Romantic Piano Concerto disc from Hyperion.