The Romantic Piano Concerto – Henryk Melcer

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Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor

Jonathan Plowright (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Christoph König

Recorded 7 & 8 March 2007 in City Hall, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2008
Duration: 67 minutes



The Polish composer, pianist, conductor, teacher and administrator Henryk Melcer-Szczawinski (1869-1928) wrote both of these piano concertos (his only two) in the 1890s. They form Volume 44 of Hyperion’s series devoted to “The Romantic Piano Concerto”.

The opening of the First is solemn and stirring, the pianist not wasting time before making a grand entrance, a cadenza that continues through orchestral responses before some melancholy rumination sets-up the generally-rhapsodic movement as a whole, the piano communicating lyrically, the orchestra offering a warm bedrock of strings and woodwinds that engage conversationally. More agitated material surfaces midway through – and then, as if in doubt as to what to do next, Melcer composes a fugue! The music itself, somewhat nondescript, is nevertheless attractive and tuneful. After a relatively lengthy, and sectional, opening movement (14 minutes), one with ‘slow’ tendencies, Melcer cannily follows it with a short, nocturne-like, Andantino as an admirable foil, before introducing entrancing dance-like measures for a finale that snakes, lilts and points the way – in lively and seductive fashion – to a glittering and sonorous conclusion.

The Second Concerto is on a larger-scale (37 minutes), the first movement opening with the piano alone, somewhat introspectively, in the manner of one of Brahms’s ‘late’ piano pieces, with some decorous woodwind interjections lightening the mood, the strings increasing the pace with dramatic impulse. The piano, not stirred, continues to muse, but the combatants, if they are, then become heated together as the movement progresses – with plenty of pianistic fireworks – and without compromising the piano’s ability to express regretful feelings in a shapely manner. Of Melcer’s two concertos, the Second is the more personal and interesting. The slow movement begins unexpectedly – with a trumpet solo, sounded as if from a barracks and somewhat ‘Last Post’, before the piano enters with a haunting melody that is to dominate – and will prove equally effective on full strings. The finale is scintillating and, at 3’14”, there arrives a majestic passage that could pass as a National Anthem!

Throughout Jonathan Plowright plays with dedication, affection and technical aplomb and is well supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Christoph König. The recorded sound is superb – with ideal balance between piano and orchestra and between warmth, presence and clarity – and is transferred at a level that respects dynamic variety. Joseph A. Herter’s booklet note is enlightening.

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