Digital technology is giving us a second chance to re-assess the judgement of posterity. This has two dimensions, both obvious. Re-mastered historic recordings have made it many times easier to form an opinion of the artists of the past and, now, forgotten repertoire has the opportunity to live again on new CDs. Hyperions much celebrated The Romantic Piano Concerto series is one of the most admirable examples of the second phenomenon.
Why have some pieces of music become established and not others? Stories of musical fashion are legion in the history of music the rediscovery of Bach, the neglect of a myriad of composers Schubert, say in their lifetimes. Nevertheless, in the roughest terms, one can say that posterity chooses pieces of memorable melodic interest and outstanding structural clarity. In a form as extrovert as the piano concerto, this is all the more true. Look at Rachmaninovs Second or Tchaikovsky One big tunes almost all the way through.
Zygmunt Stojowski (1870-1946), new to me, is billed as Polands greatest composer of his generation. He falls some way short, however, of having any equivalent stature in international company. His two piano concertos sound like pastiches echoes of Beethoven and Chopin, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. The variation-finale of the Second Concerto is perhaps the most musically interesting movement with resemblance to Rachmaninovs Paganini Rhapsody (which Stojowski pre-dates) in its combination of slush, passion and interest in historic forms.
Of course, both pieces receive admirable advocacy on this CD the solo part is technically demanding, which Plowright makes light of. The orchestral accompaniment is sympathetic and spirited. Nothing, however, can disguise the fact that these pieces do have a tendency to be both episodic and rambling, and are unlikely to find a regular place in the repertoire. Concert artists, who endlessly perform the standard pieces, quite naturally explore the by-ways of their instrument, but in these days when information is so easy to come by, it will be rare to find paradigm-changing discoveries.
The recorded sound is everything one expects from Hyperion full and natural. A CD, then, to congratulate Hyperion on, but express reservations at the musical content. This CD expands our knowledge of music history and gives us the pleasurable freshness of hearing something new, but it also confirms rather than upsets what posterity has already disposed.