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Stojowski: Piano Concertos
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Sigismond Stojowski is a completely forgotten name to all but piano aficionados (and they certainly don't know him as 'Zygmunt' as Hyperion calls him why? we never refer to, say, Liszt as Ferenc). In his day (1870-1946), his music was played by Paderewski (his teacher and friend), Hofmann, Friedman, Samaroff, Grainger, Kochanski, Enesco and Casals, his works conducted by the likes of Nikisch, von Bulow, Damrosch, Halle and Godard. If it was good enough for them, then it should be good enough for us and indeed listening to these, two of the most dramatic, high-spirited and melodically inspired concertos you have never heard, will make you wonder why we are force-fed a diet of the Tchaikovsky, the Grieg and the rest of today's overplayed fodder. Either of Stojowski's concertos, should they be included in the Proms, would take the roof off the Royal Albert Hall.The First Concerto (1890) is a conventionally structured, bold, skilfully worked virtuoso vehicle with the voices of its dedicatee (Anton Rubinstein), Chopin and Saint-Saens hovering in the background. The Second Concerto (1909-10) comprises a searingly passionate Prelude, a Scherzo, theme and ten variations. All concerned are kept fully occupied throughout its 33 minutes. Stojowski gave the premiere with Nikisch at Queen's Hall in 1913. It caused a sensation when Paderewski, the work's dedicatee, gave its second US performance in 1916. You can see why.This is a simply tremendous release. First, the balance between orchestra and soloist is ideal in the warm but focused acoustic of Dundee's Caird Hall. The Steinway is superbly well captured, heroically powerful but never shrill and with a caressingly lyrical tone at pp and below. Even in the loudest tuttis, the soloist remains a lively presence. Brabbins and Plowright seem to have an almost telepathic understanding of the music and each other's needs. Brabbins's contribution cannot be underestimated, drawing an energetic, characterful and hugely enjoyable response from his Scottish players. This is Plowright's debut recording for Hyperion. To those who have followed his steady and unspectacular career, his playing of these two flamboyant concertos will come as a revelation. He takes your breath away. His sincere musicality combined with thrilling, edge-of-the-seat pianism of the highest order is of the kind you rarely encounter in studio recordings these days. In other words, the Hyperion team present these unjustly neglected concertos in the best possible light, persuasive enough to convince those who characterize such music as 'high tosh' that they may be mistaken. A truly great recording, an award winner if ever I heard one. Jeremy Nicholas -- From International Record Review - subscribe now
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These concertos just did not engage me. They have some lovely moments, but I never felt cohesion in either concerto. I heard one musical idea after another, one mood change after another, without any reference to an organic whole. I can see why early audiences would have liked live performances -- it has some nice moments, and lots of flash. However, I would guess it fell out of the repertoire simply because pianists could not fall in love with it. From my own perspective as a very mediocre pianist, one really has to love a piece to put in the long hours necessary to make it perfect. I found in many cases that the piano parts consisted of having the pianist thumping lots of chords as a way to be active.
In terms of the recording quality, concerto recording is tricky (as is concerto performance). Serious music lovers know the problems of balancing the solo instrument with the loudness of the orchestra at a live performance. Audio engineers can manipulate tracks in a way that allows detail to come out while not overpowering the orchestra with too close a sound. I felt that the audio engineers here went more for a hands off approach -- i.e., I could not hear pianistic details when the orchestra was playing loudly.