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on 8 April 2013
Jonathan Plowright has made something of a speciality of Polish music and he is certainly into the idiom. For anyone who revels in great romantic piano concertos, superlatively played and recorded you can't go wrong. This is a marvellous issue, number 59 in the Hyperion series. The Zelenski especially is a wonderful early 20th century concerto with a great dancing finale. To sum up this is absolutely b----- brilliant!! Rush out and buy it.
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on 17 April 2013
Wladyslaw Zelenski was a Polish composer and music educator, born in 1837, who helped establish the Cracow Conservatory in 1881 and served as its director until his death in 1921. Not many of his works survive. The piano concerto dates from 1903 and was dedicated to and first performed by Ignacy Friedman.

More in the tradition of the Russian than the German Romantics, Zelenski's music puts more emphasis on highlighting than blending orchestral colour. There are no extended orchestral tuttis. The piano writing is extremely virtuosic. Sometimes, as often at the ends of cadenzas, it is ostentatiously so. The first movement uses a modified version of sonata form. Its opening idea is march-like (the movement is actually in triple time) and is soon repeated by the piano. The lyrical second theme arrives at 3 mins 6 secs in the expected key. It has a distinctive opening shape but doesn't really blossom as you hope it will. After a short tutti, a development section begins. It is largely based on the second theme though short interludes built on the "march" function as links. A lengthy cadenza, again largely built on the second theme, arrives before you know it. Oddly, the ensuing recapitulation shortens the restatement of the second theme and the result is a movement which is out of proportion. The real problem with this movement, however, is that its melodic material is just not memorable enough to sustain it.

The second movement is an improvement. It is a set of five variations in alternating slow and fast tempi on a simple folk-like tune. This form seems to suit Zelenski better and, although there is little that is truly memorable, there is evidence of a lively musical imagination at work. Very much the highlight of the movement is the final lyrical variation, beginning at 7 mins 34 secs.

The finale's main theme is a speeded-up version of the main theme of the previous movement so it is almost as though this finale constitutes a final extended variation, especially as it concludes with a contrapuntal passage as variations so often do. The episodes are not striking melodically, however, and this movement (indeed, the whole concerto) is urgently in need of a really strong, lyrical melody. Just one would have made all the difference!

Aleksander Zarzycki was also a composer and musical educator. He became the first director of the Warsaw Music Society in 1871 but, in 1879, he moved to the Music Institute where one of the teachers he employed was Paderewski. Earlier he had studied in Paris and both the Piano Concerto in A flat and the "Grande Polonaise" were premiered there in 1860.

Dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, the concerto has only two movements, there being no opening sonata allegro. The ternary "Andante" is not distinctive melodically but does create a warmly romantic mood, the soloist often being required to arpeggiate his chords. Don't expect, though, any Chopinesque poetry.

The following movement, marked "Allegro non troppo" is a sonata structure. Again, neither of its themes is striking and you get the impression that the first was chosen largely because it lends itself to sequential development. The second theme almost creates a poetic mood but its plain rhythms count against it. Overall, this is quite an entertaining movement although there is, as in so many concertos of the time, rather too much vapid virtuoso writing.

The "Grande Polonaise" is a winner. It is a much less pretentious work than the concerto and, as result, it is far more enjoyable. The main tune is a strong one and the episodes are also attractively tuneful.

The booklet includes photographs of Jonathan Plowright and Lukasz Borowicz which suggest a fundamentally different approach to music-making but they obviously worked well together on the day for all the music on this disc is superbly performed. A particular strength of Plowright's technique is his staccato touch. The recording is excellent.

I cannot give this disc an urgent recommendation, then, but, if you do invest in it, at least you won't have trouble knowing where to file it. Under Z for Zzzzzz...!
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on 19 May 2013
I am sorry to disagree with the other reviewers but I regard this last issue of the cycle as completely unbearable. I do not know what prompted the enterprising label Hyperion to record this Cd because perhaps is the worst of the series.
We have here two Polish composers: Wladislaw Zelenski, with the piano concerto in E flat major, and Alexander Zarzicki, with his concerto in A flat major and his Grande Polonaise, the only piece worth hearing in this recording.
The first concerto, that by Zelenski, is a completetely uninspired work. It is difficult to single out any catchy and memorable tune and, on the other hand, the orchestral writing is so unimaginative and derivative that the sounds which the orchestra elicits are raucous: the orchestra seems to be clattering throughout. The main protagonist is the piano and the role of the orchestra is reduced to a mere accompaniment.
Things slightly improve in the second concerto: at least the orchestration is better, but the concerto is as dull and vapid as the previous one. The lack of inspiration permeates during the concerto.
It is difficult to think of such an unfortunate coupling because both concertos leave a lot to be desired, and so the neglect into which fell this composers is completely deserved.
The last work: the grande Polonaise in E flat major is the most succesful and pleasant. The music does not contain much depth, but the dance, bordering on the sentimental, is charming.
I do not recommend this Cd.
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on 12 April 2013
I'm really happy record companies like Hyperion delve into the byways of the classical repertoire to influence buyers like me with pleasant surprises and many new things. Years ago I didn't have any notion of Polish piano concertos between the ones of Chopin and the next Polish piano concerto I knew, the one of Ludomir Rozycki from 1918. The start of the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concertos series blasted off with a Paderewski and Moszkowski (not a Pole perse by the way) volume and after that they gave us the Polish concertos of Stojowski, Melcer, Scharwenka (half Polish/half Prussian) etc. And now they delve even deeper with concertos by Zarzycki and Zelenski. Warning: they aren't earth-shattering, this is just a pleasant listening experience; works for which no intellectual thinking is necessary. Just let the music flow over you and enjoy the beautiful and presumably very difficult piano part here very well played by mr. Plowright. The orchestral accompaniment is another matter. This is the field in which these works - and many discs in this excellent Hyperion collection - fail to attract. That's not Hyperion's fault but the composers. If you think Chopin was a great orchestrator - you're wrong by the way - this is in the same league. Nothing seriously challenging happens, the confrontation between piano and orchestra is absent most of the time. No spicy things, not even much pepper and salt. A Krakowiak thing, a Polonaise rhythm etc. and that's it. Did the concertos of Brahms or Tchaikofsky, Grieg, or Schumann have any influence at all on Zelenski, who's concerto op.60 is from 1904? Or, he could have been totally unaware of their existence, or didn't have the compositional skill to do much something with the orchestra. I don't know. So, a fine hour of good music making and if you'd let an experienced friend listen to these concertos and tell him or her, `listen, here're new recordings of concertos by Stompowicz', he'll immediately believe you.
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