RÓŻYCKI: Ballade; Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 – Jonathan Plowright (piano)/ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Łukasz Borowicz – Hyperion

A thoroughly recommendable release of late Romantic piano concertos.

LUDOMIR RÓŻYCKI: Ballade;  Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 43;  Piano Concerto No. 2 – Jonathan Plowright (piano)/ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Łukasz Borowicz – Hyperion CDA 68066, 63:09 or 96K/24-bit download [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (2/5/16) ****:

Ludomir Różycki (1883-1953) is the subject of Hyperion’s 67th volume in the ongoing series of Romantic Piano Concertos.  A somewhat unsung composer today, apart from in his native Poland, he is of the same generation as Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), Mieczysław Karłowicz (1879-1909) and Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953).  All four were taught by Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) who had eschewed inspiration from Liszt, Brahms and Wagner instead concentrating on a Polish nationalist style, and his pupils belonged to the group known as “Young Poland”, artists in general who, among other aims, espoused the continuation of Romanticism.

Today, these musicians’ output, apart from Szymanowski’s, may seem to some rather too old-fashioned compared with others of the generation such as Berg, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Others will relish the colour and energy of the works of these composers, more comparable to Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams than to the Second Viennese School.

Różycki, like many of the Polish musicians mentioned so far, was busy not only as a composer, but also as a teacher and conductor, and his music has remained well-loved in his home country.  Hyperion has already released a recording of his String Quartet, Op 49, coupled with Szymanowski’s pair;  those who have that issue will have been looking forward greatly to this new one.

The Ballade in G, Op 18 is an early work dating from Różycki’s graduation year, and is both well-crafted and inventive, the architecture a model of good proportion in musical ideas.  Jonathan Plowright brings out the virtuoso components with aplomb, and the more poetic ones with, especially the imaginative and quiet close, with sensitivity.

The First Piano Concerto, Op 43 dates from 1918, by which time the composer had already written a good number of mature works. In three movements, there’s a good deal of opportunity for Plowright to present some demanding writing with seemingly effortless ease.  The opening of the concerto is quite captivating and the slow movement’s romantic beauty twists and turns with unpredictable delight.

The Second Piano Concerto dates from Poland’s darkest days and was completed during 1941-1942.  In two movements, the first is expectedly serious, a substantial movement which quotes themes underlining the composer’s and country’s predicament, certainly strong and defiant rather than simply gloomy.  Again, the opening makes for riveting listening.  The second movement, marked Allegro giocoso,with its rhythmic and Polish flavour is a model of optimism under the most testing of circumstances.  Adrian Thomas, in his excellent essay for this release, goes into some depth about the genesis of the ideas which inspired the writing of this work, and it is easy to understand why Różycki’s music has remained popular at least in his own country.

Recorded in City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland in October 2014, the sound quality, especially in the high resolution download format reviewed (96kH/24-bit), is very good indeed – the important balance between piano and orchestra excellent.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra play with gusto and sensitivity under their energetic conductor, Łukasz Borowicz, who has over the last number of years made several records of music by the “Young Poland” school, amongst others, all well worth investigating.  I hope he will be asked to set down new recordings of Różycki’s orchestral tone poems and ballets. Jonathan Plowright has this music in his heart and soul, and it shows, and his balance between the effervescent and the contemplative is impeccable.

All in all, this is a thoroughly recommendable release of late Romantic works.

—Peter Joelson

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