REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » PADEREWSKI: Piano Concerto / Polish Fantasy
By Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
"The Canadian-born pianist Janina Fialkowska brings dash and flair to this pairing of the two works Paderewski wrote for piano and orchestra...there is a robustness of colouring, tinged with Polish folk inflections, which gives them a personal stamp. The vigorous piano writing, designed for maximum impact, gives opportunities for Fialkowska to display her own virtuosity. But she and the orchestra also respond sensitively to the reflective moments in among the thrills."
Piano Concerto; Polish
Fantasy on Original Themes; Overture
An internationally famous virtuoso pianist, President of the newly
independent Republic of Poland, Honorary Doctor from Universities as far apart
as Lemberg, Cracow, Oxford and Yale, Paderewski also had time to become one of
Poland's leading Romantic composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. Although perhaps still a minor composer on the European standard of
greatness, his music somehow fits neatly in the gap between his two other
famous compatriots, Chopin and Szymanowski. Always attractive and sometimes
rather more, this is music that reflects the patriotism of its countrymen as
well as the rich sonorities of the time.
Ignacy Paderewski was born on 6th November, 1860 in the eastern part of
Poland, in the small town of Kurylówka on the river San, close to the Ukrainian
border. His mother died when he was at an early age and he soon became subject
to his father's political, revolutionary idealism. At eighteen, he graduated
from the Conservatory in Warsaw and became a professor of piano there. Two
years later, having moved to Berlin, he took up studies with Friedrich Kiel and
Heinrich Urban (teacher also to the late romantic composer Karlowicz). After
returning home to Poland, he gave piano recitals in Cracow before moving on to
Vienna where he began studies with the famous virtuoso pianist, Leschetizky.
Paderewski's own career as a legendary pianist was now set to take off
and he made his solo début in Vienna in 1887, followed by Paris a year later
and capped by a hugely successful Carnegie Hall recital in New York in 1891.
His name was soon to become known throughout the whole of the musical world. A
tour of the USA followed consisting of a remarkable 117 recitals. It was only
the rather cool English public which seemed, at least at that stage, to be none
too enthusiastic about his playing.
It was hardly surprising that Paderewski should consider writing some of
his own music to demonstrate that pianistic talent and he completed a piano
concerto in 1888 and the Polish Fantasy five years later in 1893, as
well as a sonata for solo piano and various short pieces. The Piano Concerto
was first performed by the Russian pianist Anna Esipova, wife of Leschetizky,
under one of the most famous conductors of the time, Hans Richter, and became
an immediate success.
Poland at that time
was struggling for freedom and a national identity, and Paderewski turned his
attention to the subject of a national opera. This became Manru, based
upon Kraszewski's House Outside the Village. The opera was completed in
1900 but after early performances it disappeared from the stage without trace.
A similar patriotic vein can be found in his rather unwieldy but still somehow
impressive nationalist Polonia Symphony, first heard in Lausanne in
Switzerland in 1908 and a short time later given in Boston by Max Fiedler.
In 1910, Paderewski appeared in the opening concert of the Warsaw
Philharmonic and gave arousing speech urging independence for his native
Poland. Although he spent much time abroad, including stays in Switzerland and
the United States, his patriotism and national concerns led him to become new
Poland's first prime minister in 1919, after the end of the First World War.
By 1922, he had resumed his concert career and undertook the huge task
of editing all of Chopin's works, but when war broke out again and Hitler's
troops marched into Poland, Paderewski fled to the United States where he died,
in exile, on 29th June, 1941. He was buried in the Arlington Cemetery in
The two works for piano and orchestra make an obvious pairing. Both are
virtuoso pieces in the grand style and have attracted famous pianists over the
years. It is a tribute to their rich vein of melody that they still hold a
place on the edge of the pianist's repertory today, when exhibitionism is not
as popular in the concert hall as it was some years ago.
The Piano Concerto opens with a bold orchestral flourish, which
soon leads into a folk-like theme in the orchestra before the piano boldly
takes up the lyrical mood. The writing for the solo instrument becomes more and
more virtuosic until the grand-gestured romantic concerto style is established,
continuing to dominate the opening Allegro, The following Romanza opens
with a lovely theme in the winds after which the piano adds a gentle
commentary, entering into a mood reminiscent of the lyrical pages of Chopin,
then embroidering the orchestral melody and growing more sumptuous as the
climax is reached before finally fading away. The final Allegro molto is
a bravura Polish dance with plenty of opportunities for solo pyrotechnics.
The single movement Fantasy on original themes begins with a slow
folk dance interrupted almost at once by a piano flourish and a short cadenza
setting the mood for a piece full of tuneful melodies and dances juxtaposed
with the soloist's sometimes languorous, often virtuoso commentaries.
Swaggering themes alternate with lyrical, quieter passages and exacting solos
in this twenty-minute display piece.
The Overture is relatively little-known. It opens with a
plaintive melody which gives way to a jolly dancing theme in the woodwind
although the Polish element here often seems to owe something to the early
German Romantics. The two themes are developed together, taking turns at
prominence in a lilting dance mood up to the end.
Janina Fialkowska was born in Montreal to a Canadian mother and a Polish
father, and began to study the piano with her mother at the age of five. She
later studied at the Ecole de Musique Vincent d'Indy, and at the University of
Montreal, where she completed her Master's degree by the age of seventeen. The
following year she won first prize in the Radio Canada National Talent Festival
and travelled to Paris to study with Yvonne Lefébure. A year later she entered
the Juilliard School of Music in New York as a pupil of Sascha Grodnitzki,
whose assistant she later was for some five years. In 1974 her career was
launched by Artur Rubinstein, after her prize-winning performance at his
inaugural Master Piano competition in Israel. Since then she has enjoyed a
highly successful career, winning a particular reputation for her Chopin and
Liszt performances and for her interpretation of Polish music of the twentieth
century. She appears regularly with the foremost North American orchestras,
among them the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic,
Philadelphia and Pittsburg Symphony Orchestras. She has won special recognition
for a series of important premières, most notably the first performances of a
newly discovered Liszt piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in
May 1990. She also gave the world première performances of a concerto by Libby
Larsen and the North American première of the concerto by Andrzej Panufnik.
Janina Fialkowska recently founded 'Piano Six', a group of internationally
renowned Canadian pianists who are committed to a ten-year programme to bring
important recitals to places in Canada where classical music performances are a
Last Albums Viewed
PADEREWSKI: Piano Concerto / Polish Fantasy