Noskowski • Chopin
Despite being the best-loved work of Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909), ‘father of the Polish symphonic poem’, The Steppe remains something of a rarity on disc. This excellent release is therefore doubly welcome, giving us the first chance to hear this important piece played on period instruments and to admire Noskowski’s strange sonorities anew. And the shimmering opening really does sound fresh in this vivid performance by the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées under Philippe Herreweghe, recorded last year in Warsaw at ‘Chopin and his Europe’, a festival that brings the best period bands to Poland.
The Steppe is a mature work (1895) that bridges the genres of absolute and programme music. Structured in sonata form, the piece encompasses the description of vast plains, melancholy Cossack songs, the flutes of shepherds and the clatter of cavalry hooves. Inspired by Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel With Fire and Sword, Noskowski’s intent was patriotic at a time of Poland’s political deprivation.
Adding to the Chopin Institute’s extensive catalogue of recordings using an Erard piano from 1849, the year of Chopin’s death, this version of the F minor Concerto is alive and idiomatic. Alexander Lonquich has a natural sense of rubato, and delves beneath the instrument’s dusky patina to produce a deep, melancholy sound.