Phillip Scott
Limelight, Australia
June 2016

Here are two major Piano Concertos, completed in 1918 and 1942 respectively, and a substantial Ballade for Piano and Orchestra from 1903. If they were by an English or French composer, no doubt we would have had several recordings over the years. As it is, the composer was Polish and remains virtually unknown: Ludomir Różycki (1883-1953). Although all three works were written in the 20th century, they qualify for Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series by virtue of Różycki's conservative style. Even the late Second Piano Concerto shows little sign of modernism, despite being composed at the same time as the Piano Concerto by Schoenberg. Różycki is definitely more traditional than his Polish contemporary Szymanowski.

Born into a musical family, the young composer studied in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck. His only work to achieve international recognition was a ballet score, Apollo and the Maiden (1937). Although he wrote eight operas, numerous symphonic poems, a violin concerto and the three concerto works on this disc, his musical language sounded passe after the Second World War. Poland's political isolation also kt Różycki's from becoming more widely known.

The early Ballade begins quietly with a luminous woodwind chorale, and immediaterealise that Różycki is a true composer, not a mere virtuoso providing a backdrop for his technical flourishes. We get plenty of those too, but it is the virtuoso piano style of Tchaikovsky, containing a high degree of lyricism. Another plus is the catchiness of Różycki''s themes. The Ballade, though tightly structured (according to the excellent notes by Adrian Thomas) has a rhapsodic feel with a tender, quiet coda. In the First Concerto, I detect Debussy's influence in the slow movement, in the filigree textures of the piano writing if not in the harmony.

Unusually, the Second Concerto has only two movements. The first begins and ends mysteriously, evolving into a martial theme with a touch of wartime triumphalism, although the latter mood is soon swept aside. The finales of both concertos are marked Allegro giocoso: both are full of dance rhythms and high spirits, allowing the soloist and orchestra to shine.

In music that can hardly be over-familiar to him, British pianist Jonathan Plowright gives splendidly assured performances. The BBC Scottish players share his obvious enjoyment, and Łukasz Borowicz leads them with flair. Sound and balance are excellent. This disc is a standout in Hyperion's extensive series: a discovery of real worth.