“Too many CDs” being a typical topic of discussion among CD collectors and connoisseurs, and listening to the umpteenth version of the “Appassionata” sounding a bit boring no matter by whom, it is always interesting to be introduced to a new composer and that is what Hyperion seems to excel at. Considering the amount of neglected composers worldwide, and considering further that many of them do deserve to be neglected, promoting the correct ones is not an easy task. The introduction of the 1883 born Polish composer Ludomir Różycki is a welcome one and a correct hit in that respect. Remembering that Chopin died in 1849 and Szymanowski was born in 1882, it is worthwhile to think of, and feel, how romantic Różycki wanted to be or how he deviated from the obvious task, and what he achieved, to distinguish himself from those two Polish giants of composers.
Whilst Różycki remains unknown outside Poland, opera buffs may note him for several operas he has composed, rather than his orchestral music, but it is the latter that is represented on Hyperion’s disc. The composer’s Op 18 Ballade is a perfect choice of an introduction to his oeuvre. This is an unattractive, strained piece that plays with your prejudices and fails to impress. An early work of Różycki, the Ballade suffers from prejudice, as the title immediately forces us to remember Chopin’s greatest output of this very specific genre. Romanticism and poetry do not have to flow from a composer’s heart, but as this sour narrative of the Ballade becomes a tedious argument with uninteresting melodic ideas, the listener is not motivated to go on further.
Then why is the Ballade a perfect introduction and why is the CD delightful, you may ask. The reply is in the next two concertos and in seeing how this mediocre looking composer of the Op. 18 found his own voice as he matured. Not that Różycki is one of the most original composers of his time, he certainly is not. Yet he does have a distinctive Polish sound in search of more impressionistic landscapes (listen to the second movement of the First Concerto), so different from Szymanowski’s structures. The concerto kicks off with Jonathan Plowright up to the task of virtuosity and bravura, but this deceptive introduction soon leaves its place to a sensitive and even sensual exploration of various ideas with orchestral colours abundant. The finale is the less interesting of the three movements of the Op 43 Piano Concerto No 1 as it goes to and fro between building a colossal structure or pianistic lyricism. Yet in this concerto and particularly the first two movements, one marvels at a new discovery, authentic and ever searching for an inner voice.
The Second Piano Concerto is more interesting, personal and advanced than the first. Fully mature now, Różycki has found his ultimate voice in a dark introduction which is neither show case nor ordinary, but a deviation from earlier romantic ideas that soon dives into determined, agitated motifs full of tension. It should be no coincidence that the concerto dates from the time of the Second World War, but this historic importance is not the only reason to show interest to what could have been a major work of repertoire. Nevertheless, noting that the First Concerto dates from the First World War, a compare and contrast exercise between the two concertos bring out rewarding results. The outburst of the end of the first movement is a unique progression in its own right, a surprising cry in anguish. Although the (second and) last movement, once again, does not live up to the earlier pages of the piece, this time it shows a different, playful and devilish side of the composer.
Pianist, conductor and orchestra are all up to the task of bringing out whatever there is in this composer, honestly and never forcing their ways to imagine more than what there already is. Their attention to detail and natural colouring have added to the value of the disc in a modest and yet touching attitude. If you are interested in going off the beaten track, this is one of the CD’s that should top your imminent shopping list.