A considerate coupling of two three-movement C-minor Piano Quintets written by contemporaneous Polish pianist-composers; both are expansive pieces, one just short of forty minutes (the Friedman), the other just over.
Ludomir Różycki (1883-1953) composed his Piano Quintet in 1913. It is immediately arresting in its dark heavy-heartedness – it may remind of Fauré – and it’s a beautiful piece, soulful sentiments and powerful emotions entwined, and superbly crafted. The three movements are of equal length, fourteen minutes here, with a central slow one that tolls particularly desolate if profoundly eloquent expressions that become somewhat relieved as the music progresses if only to sink back to melancholy. The Finale, marked Allegro giocoso, offers a musical spring to the step without ever becoming glib; it is more that storm clouds are less apparent, and conclusively the work ends with a valiant response to previous doldrums.
This is music, a real discovery, that makes you want to investigate further, for although Różycki’s output is mostly of piano miniatures he also composed eight operas, and his score for the ballet Pan Twardowski was a great success both in and away from Poland.
Ignaz (Hyperion opts for Ignacy) Friedman’s Piano Quintet is from a few years later, 1918. Friedman (1882-1948) was a leading pianist of his generation, his recordings testifying to the prowess that his peers, not least Rachmaninov, admired in him.
Friedman’s Piano Quintet opens majestically, musical complexities inviting dedicated listening, and then the insouciant second subject (waltz-like) comes as a delightful surprise; and Friedman is traditionally-minded enough to include an exposition repeat. The music’s development is complex and compelling. The slow movement – Larghetto, con somma espressione – is of an inward-looking theme and a greatly contrasted set of variations, while the concluding movement is relatively brief enough for Friedman to have termed it an “Epilog”. The first two notes, and at a similar speed and rhythm, correspond with the beginning of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture (my internal jukebox travelled to London for a few seconds). Friedman’s wistful music matches his Allegretto semplice designation, wrapping things up lightly if not without cordial reminiscing.
Sometimes you think you have heard everything out there, then a release like this comes along to stimulate the aural taste-buds and you realise that a whole lifetime, however long that may be, is not nearly enough to discover and re-discover the vast catalogue of music that awaits the adventurous spirit.
I should perhaps add that Jonathan Plowright (masterly) and the Szymanowski Quartet (including an alluring cellist) give very persuasive readings of these hugely rewarding Piano Quintets and that Hyperion’s sound quality and presentation are also excellent.