Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 17 is both one of the most famous pieces in Paderewski’s repertoire and one of the greatest Polish piano achievements.
The first part of the work – an allegro – had already been written back in 1882, and was thus written by the artist when he was in his twenties. Paderewski performed the piece a year later at one of the meetings of the Warsaw Music Society. The rest of the composition was written over the course of the next few years. A part of the piece was for instance written in 1884 in Zakopane, Kraków and Vienna, where Paderewski studied piano under the direction of Teodor Leszetycki, a famous professor to whom the concerto is dedicated. The piece was finally finished in the summer of 1888 in Paris. The first performance took place on 20th January, 1889 in Vienna in the interpretation of Anetta Jessipowa, Leszetycki’s wife, accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Hans Richter. A few weeks later, on 8th April 1889, the A minor concerto was played for the first time in Warsaw. The famous music critic Jan Kleczyński wrote:
Paderewski’s work has beautiful themes, full of warmth in the first part, poetic in the romance and packed with passion in its finale; the orchestra is often combined with the piano in witty combinations, whereas the solo instrument is conducted exquisitely.
The composition is distinguished by beautiful melodics, subtle emotionality, its well-balanced virtuosity and transparent facture, especially of the solo instrument, as well as a clear construction. The concerto starts with a sonata-allegro, the central romance has the form of a canto, and everything ends with a very fast and lively final allegro. The thought of the first part (Allegra) is intonated by the piano, distinct by the characteristic rhythm and complemented by a melodious motive that refers to folk music. It contrasts well with the second theme of the allegro – calm, slow, at first of descending direction of melody, later calmly swaying. The lyrical romance brings poetry and romanticism. The beautiful, melancholic theme of the middle part switches between piano, violin, and cello parts. The final rondo moves with its great expression, panache and dynamism. The last part of the piece is crowned with a ceremonial chorale.
Piano Concerto in A minor was not performed by Aneta Jessipowa exclusively, as Paderewski himself had that piece in his repertoire and often played on his artistic tours. Karol Radziwonowicz recorded the piece on LP together with The Great Polish Radio and Television Symphonic Orchestra under the baton of Antoni Wita (Muza SX2949, CD version – Polskie Nagrania PNCD 105). Barbara Hesse-Bukowska recorded the piece with the same orchestra under the baton of Jan Krenz (Muza XL0196, CD version – Olympia OCD302). The piece has also been recorded by Janina Fialkowska with The Polish National Radio Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wita (Naxos 8.554020), Piers Lane with the BBC Scottish Symphony Radio conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk (Hyperion 66452), Earl Wild with The London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arthur Fiedler (Ivory Classics IC 77003), Karol Radziwonowicz with The Kraków Philharmonic conducted by Roland Bader (Koch Schwann 3-1145-2), Felicja Blumental with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Helmut Froschauer (Brana Records BR 0028), Ian Hobson with Sinfonia Varsovia under the baton of Jerzy Maksymiuk (Polskie Radio PRCD141), Piotr Paleczny with Sinfonia Varsovia under the baton of Jerzy Maksymiuk (BeArTon CDB018) and Ewa Kupiec together with Radio Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt conducted by Hugh Wolff (Koch Schwann 36550-2).
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, July 2010, translated by AW, October 2016