Fanfare Magazine

CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 2 . Fantasia on Polish Themes . MONIUSZKO The Raftsman Overture . LUTOSLAWSKI Little Suite . Martin Labazevvitch (pn); Ewa Strusińska, cond; Beethoven Academy Orchestra . DELOS 3463 (67:09)


Colin Clarke

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Here’s a rare opportunity to hear some Moniuszko. One should really be able to say, perhaps, “Here’s a rare opportunity to hear some Moniuszko that isn’t Halka or The Haunted Manor,” but how many people know even those, despite an interesting and excellent DVD of Halka available some time ago? (Wrosław Opera, Dux 9538). Onetime Fanfare reviewer John Bauman certainly did, as he included the fine CPO compact disc recording of Halka (999 032- 2) in his 1988 Want List. Here, though, we have the Overture to the one-act opera The Raftsman (Flis), written 10 years after Halka. Composed in Paris, The Raftsman was first staged in Warsaw in September 1858. The slow opening to the Overture is gentle and lyrical, while the main body is polka-like and jolly (for some reason it brought Arthur Sullivan to mind). An orchestral depiction of a storm makes reference to the opera’s opening scene. This might not be a storm of Holländer-like dimensions, but it makes its point perfectly. Ewa Strusińska directs a performance that is beautifully wide-ranging. Here is music that really is worth hearing; there is a complete recording available, again on the Dux label (0736), which I have not heard, but which is calling to me. The ever-enterprising Naxos label offers an opportunity to explore the world of Moniuszko overtures on a disc dedicated to 10 of them (8.572716, featuring the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit).

The opening of the Chopin Second Piano Concerto is somewhat light from the orchestra, with the recording a little harsh in the higher extremes. Martin Labazevitch pretty much saves the day, however. His way with Chopin is fluent and convincing. He plays with a superb control of rubato, and has the most beautiful way of melting a phrase. Polish-born, Labazevitch studied at Odessa State Conservatory in Ukraine before emigrating to the United States, studying at the Manhattan School with Horacio Gutiérrez, and towards a doctorate at the Catholic University of America under José Ramos Santana. The dramatic solo “recitatives” in the second movement are effective; a pity the opening of the finale is rather underpowered. In fact, this last movement’s strengths are Labazevitch’s superb legerdemain and a real chamber music feeling to the piano/orchestra interactions. Never is there any doubt that everything here is perfectly in style. While Labazevitch will not displace any of the many classic recordings of this piece, this remains a highly enjoyable performance. The Fantaisia on Polish Themes has less competition in the catalogs, but faces one Everest: Arrau on Philips. Labazevich’s clean approach, so evident in the concerto, pays dividends here, too, and it is a joy to be reacquainted with this piece. Ian Hobson is another pianist who, on Zephyr, has left his mark.

There are surprisingly few recordings of Lutosławski’s Little Suite, in which the composer takes music from his homeland (the Rzeszów region, to be exact), adding a palpably Stravinskian bite. The piccolo dominates, perhaps unsurprisingly given its title, in the first movement, “A Pipe,” before the Stravinsky influence really kicks in for the “Hurray Polka.” The performance here has a raw quality that seems entirely apposite, and the forward recording is involving. There is something of the verve of a live performance about the Beethoven Academy Orchestra’s rendition, enabling the far gentler “A Song” to appear in high, and satisfying, contrast. The finale is a lively “Dance” which features a contrasting longbreathed melody, caressingly delivered in the present instance. This is a fascinating disc. Its strength is really its programming, a Polish mix of the familiar with the less-so. The Beethoven Academy Orchestra is billed as “Poland’s youngest professional symphony orchestra,” and that youth here translates into a palpable freshness of approach coupled with a near-palpable spirit of discovery.

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