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Paderewski Piano Works

Sonata in E flat minor Op 21, Variations and Fugue Op 11 and Op 23

Jonathan Plowright

Hyperion CDA67562


How do you feel about Brahms’ redoubtable Handel Variations?  If you love them, you’ll like this. If you find them a bit stodgy, the variations on this disc will come over as indigestible and the sonata will give you stomach-ache.

In the schoolboy history of music, Romanticism turns into Nationalism without drawing breath. But the more you listen to lesser-known composers of the late 19th and early 20th century, the more you are struck by the pervasive influence of Brahms, as on this disc.

Even if you only take those whose place in the pantheon is safe - Dvorak is an excellent exemplar of what I mean – his most popular works are avowedly folksy and nationalist, not forgetting the native American influence late in his life, but it is all built on a heavily Brahmsian conception of form, structure and harmony.

On the evidence of this disc, Paderweski is the same; the variations end with fugues, whose subjects strongly recall the four-note rising-falling-rising motif of the Brahms model. So, indeed, does the fugal passage in the sonata. Admittedly, within Paderweski’s output, these works are the Brahmsian, non-nationalistic ones, so the repertoire is a bit of a cheat. However, the choice is interesting in showing how Paderewski clearly wished himself to be taken seriously as a large-scale composer. Already a politician as well as a famous virtuoso, he clearly aspired to be a polymath.

The music has affinities not just with Brahms, of course. We also recall Rachmaninov (specifically, the Corelli variations), Macdowell, Liszt and Reger, the last particularly in Paderweski’s affection for the “antique style.”

The first set of variations is polished, though less ambitious (as a student work) and occasionally (as with a variation composed entirely of scales) formulaic, the second is more grandiose, with a theme not unlike a Chopin prelude. The sonata is undoubtedly the least easy to love – a whirlwind of notes that often seems to have no direction at all.

As music, the CD is easier to admire than love; the level of compositional invention is inferior to the last Hyperion offering of neglected piano music I reviewed – Hamelin plays Alkan – and like some of the issues in Hyperion’s 19th Romantic piano concerto series, it is a worthy issue rather than an indispensable one.

Speaking personally, the Brahms Op 24 is one of my favourite piano works, so I listened to its younger cousins with delight and fascination. But I think I will be in a minority.

Really excellent playing from Plowright, who make slight of the technical difficulties. Good presentation, and very good value at a second under 80 minutes.

You will know from my first paragraph whether this disc is for you, but if it is, buy it without hesitation.

Ying Chang