CHOPIN: The Complete Works Volume 3 = Variations on La ci darem la mano in B-flat Major, Op. 2; Fantasia on Polish Airs in A Major, Op. 13; Rondo in C Major, Op. 73; Krakowiak Rondo in F Major, Op. 14; Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 22 – Ian Hobson, piano/ Claude Hobson, piano (Op. 73)/ Sinfonia Varsovia – Zephyr Z134-09, 71:47 [Distr. By Albany] ****:
It was after an 1831 performance of the Op. 2 homage to Mozart, the La darem la mano Variations, that the music critic Robert Schumann declared, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” Conceived as a slow introduction, Tema, and five variations with a closing Alla Polacca, the piece rings with roulades and virtuoso bravura. The original fourth variant, marked con bravura, Chopin deleted from the score; but its printing in 1961 inspires Ian Hobson (b. 1952) to include it as an addendum for the sake of posterity. One might note the scale of Chopin’s scoring of this wickedly ambitious piece: double woodwinds and horns, trumpet, tympani, and strings. Recorded 8-10 January 2009 in Studio S1 of Polish Radio, the sound projects more than a vibrant ring of authenticity.
The Fantasy on Polish Airs (1829) bears the same forces, and its initial reception glowed with the inevitable comparison to another stellar virtuoso: “He is the Paganini of the pianoforte.” Rife with folk tunes: Juz miesiac zaszedl; a Kupinski air in F-sharp Minor; and a kujawiak played scherzando. Hobson plays the bright showpiece without affectation, although none quite captures the Polish zal as well as Artur Rubinstein. The easy grace Hobson projects a resonant lyricism, natural and virile at once. The plastic colors from the orchestra filter in and out of the keyboard’s metrically subtle filigree with suave aplomb. The Fantasy served for Chopin’s farewell concerto to Warsaw 11 October 1830.
The Rondo in C in the two-piano arrangement (1828; pub. 1855) used to provide a smoothly glittering vehicle for the French virtuoso Samson Francois. A touch of Beethoven’s tempestuous nature infiltrates the early pages until the dance enters in typical Chopin broken chords, runs, and trills. While the dainty melodic tissue arises from the thick of the colossal writing, the ear remains compelled to attend to fleet ornaments that cascade at every turn. The Krakowiak Rondo (1828) in F, however, towers as the piece de resistance par excellence, modeled on Beethoven’s capacity for sudden shifts of dynamics and temperament. The opening remains fascinating, with a sustained strings, sporadic horns, and three bars from the clarinet, while the piano opens with a right-hand pentatonic scale doubled two octaves below. The krakowiak tune itself presents a lively 2/4 folk dance from southern Poland whose infectious character has our feet tapping and our hearts singing.
Finally, the familiar E-flat Polonaise tied to a solo G Major Andante spianato (1830/1836) modeled on a concerto by John Field. A minor miracle of keyboard articulation, the opening urges waves of sound from a pedaled two-part texture, set as a series of lovely runs and cascades. More than virtuosic, the piece enters the realm of musical poetry. The Polonaise assumes a rather ornate disposition, permeated with minor key tempests and major key transcendence. The horns and strings that announce in heraldic terms the beginning of the Polonaise heave with ceremonial pomp. A most satisfying tour of those pieces that served Chopin in his appearances with orchestra, a guise he eventually dropped after 1835.
A rich reflections into Rachmaninoff’s oeuvre