Hommage a CHOPIN = Works of BALAKIREV, BENDEL, BUSONI, GRIEG, TCHAIKOVSKY, MOMPOU, GODOWSKY & others – Jonathan Plowright, piano – Hyperion

by | Feb 12, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Hommage a CHOPIN = BALAKIREV: Impromptu on the themes of two Preludes by Chopin; BENDEL: Homage a Chopin; BUSONI: Ten Variations on a Prelude of Chopin in C Minor; GRIEG: Studie, Op. 73, No. 5; NAPRAVNIK: Notturno, Op. 48, No. 1; TCHAIKOVSKY: Un poco di Chopin; HONEGGER: Souvenir de Chopin; BERKELEY: 3 Mazurkas; VILLA-LOBOS: Homage a Chopin; MOMPOU: Variations sur un theme de Chopin; GOGARD: Homage a Chopin; GODOWSKY: Profil from Walzermasken; LESCHETIZKY: Homage a Chopin, Op. 46, No. 9 – Jonathan Plowright, piano – Hyperion CDA67803, 79:40 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Gold Medalist at the Royal Academy of Music, British pianist Jonathan Plowright has assembled a towering monument to the Chopin style from appreciative fellow-composers. The universal appeal of this great vocalist of the keyboard extends from Norway to Brazil, Britain to Russia. As conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler so aptly put it: there is Bach, Beethoven–and then there is–Chopin!

Plowright opens with perhaps the most astounding “find” of the collection, Mili Balakirev’s setting (1907) of two preludes, the B Major and the E-flat Minor, each with its own passion, as a stylized polyphonic etude in astonishing stretti. The original metric signature converts to 12/16 in modal harmony and ends with a tiger’s triple-forte marked “delirando.” Bohemian Franz Bendel (1833-1874) was unknown to me until this Op. 111 Homage (1867), whose nocturne ethos opens with a flourish resembling Chopin’s Op. 22 Andante spianato, then cross fertilized by Liszt’s D-flat Consolation. Grieg (1905) combines two Chopin etudes into a bravura F Minor study of febrile intensity. Ferruccio Busoni (1884; rev. 1922) from the outset conceives of Chopin’s fateful C Minor Prelude in vertical, polyphonic terms, the syntax for everything in Leopold Godowsky as well. Busoni applies all sorts of harmonic variants to the original, often invoking chorale and scherzando motifs. The marked, percussive independence of musical lines testifies to the Bach and Liszt influences in Busoni’s intricate, chromatic vocabulary. Eduard Napravnik (1839-1916) survives in the annals of conducting, but he composed his La reminiscence de Chopin in 1894. A lovely nocturne in D-flat Major, it easily recalls Chopin’s Op. 9 in E-flat Major, though Napravnik’s piece moves to a middle section in A Major that sounds much like Grieg.

Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the Chopin festschift comes from his 1893 Dix-huit Morceaux,Op. 72, No. 15.  The mazurka in C-sharp Minor impishly shifts the accents to the second and third beats while it whirls in gently pulsing colors. Arthur Honegger wrote his evocation of Chopin for a 1946 film about the French resistance. In E-flat Minor the music, half bittersweet nocturne, half waltz, gravitates to the tonic major. Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) composed his Three Mazurkas between 1940-1949, the last two in celebration of the Chopin centenary. In modern syntax, they convey the essential Polish meter and accent, suddenly lashing out sforzato or tripping liquidly in trilled scales. The last, Allegro, does not mind approaching Chopin by way of hazy Debussy and percussive Bartok. Villa-Lobos likewise contributed to the UNESCO Chopin memorial with his two pieces, Nocturne and Ballade. Dark and obsessive, the Nocturne relishes slinky harmonies, while the tumultuous Ballade combines aspects of Chopin’s G Minor, Op. 23 with the Etude in C Minor, Op. 25, No. 12, uncompromising in its passions.

Federico Mompou (1893-1987) earns pride of place with the most extensive homage, his twelve Variations on a Theme of Chopin, namely the tiny elusive A Major Prelude. Only two of the variants lose the shape of the original, while the others add modal harmonizations and striking textures and rhythms. Variation 3 features a solo-left-hand nocturne, Lento. No. 4 could have been a torch song by Cole Porter. The No. 5 Mazurka and the No. 9 Valse could have been entitled by Schumann as “almost too innocent.” No. 7 loses the prelude but suggests an etude from Op. 10. The E Minor Prelude saturates Variation 8, equally haunted in a melancholy hue. No. 10 “Evocation,” the longest of the set, is forever chasing rainbows from Chopin’s Op. 66.  The No. 12 Galop has Schumann’s syncopations and could serve for a Douglas Sirk melodrama with Lana Turner, while its Lento counterpart whispers of the original in long-drawn, bluesy arpeggios.

Benjamin Godard survives on a melody from Jocelyn and a rarely-played violin concerto. His Homage a Chopin, Op. 66, No. 2 (1888) is a tripping D-flat Major waltz of tender sentiment. Godowsky’s Profil (1911) has Chopin appear in Viennese triple time, cross fertilized alternately by percussive Johann Strauss and lilting Franz Schubert.  Theodor Leschetizky published his Tales of Youth suite in 1902, and the Chopin homage proves to be a Waltz-Mazurka that frolics and muses in bravura style–complete with double octaves and extended arpeggios and runs–until a coda in Polish (Moszkowski’s) style flutters to a deft conclusion.

–Gary Lemco

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