Outside of Poland, the composer Ludomir Różycki (1883-1953) has received little attention. However, listeners attracted to sweeping, rapturous late-Romantic fare will find his three-movement, 42-minute-long piano quintet full of compelling themes and canny deployment of instrumental forces. Granted, Różycki tends to try out ideas more than fully develop them: in the finale, for instance, he often works a section up to a climax, only to pause and then introduce another theme, rarely getting to the proverbial point. But Różycki’s best moments stick with you, such as the slow movement’s evocation of tolling bells in the piano’s left hand, fleshed out with low-lying sustained strings. Certainly this impassioned and technically proficient interpretation by pianist Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet makes a persuasive case on Różycki’s behalf.
Although Różycki’s colleague and fellow countryman Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948) is revered by piano connoisseurs as a keyboard titan (in fact, he premiered Różycki’s quintet), he also kept busy at the composing table. Friedman’s 1918 three-movement piano quintet is his largest-scaled work, and I actually find it more inventive and original than Różycki’s quintet. The long and arguably sprawling first movement foams with virtuosic energy and restless contrapuntal interplay. What prevents the music from sounding turgid is that Friedman can’t resist baring his sweet tooth; the second subject, for instance, evokes the frothy side of Richard Strauss.
The second movement is an inventive theme and variations, whose theme begins in dark chromaticism à la César Franck, and ends on a bare perfect fifth. The variations culminate in an ingenuous yet zestful fugue. The dance-like 'Epilog' finale contains many passages that call for the utmost in delicacy and control in extreme registers. Here Plowright and his colleagues truly rise to the occasion, not just playing beautifully but apparently listening to one another with care and sensitivity. In short, these superb musicians have given us a worthy and important follow-up to their 2012 release featuring the Juliusz Zarębski and Władysław Żeleński quintets.