Defining Polish composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s musical personality inevitably sends commentators rushing for comparisons with influential predecessors and contemporaries: Chopin is usually in the lead, followed in short order by Liszt, Wagner and Rachmaninov. But at his best, and that is very much the case with the works recorded here, there is much more to Paderewski. Chopin may be clearly evident in the Piano Sonata of 1903, but a distinctive and distinguished melodic voice shines through in the slow movement and everywhere there is always a strong sense of forward momentum.
The A minor Variations from the mid-1880s inhabit a very different world. A soulful, almost neo-Baroque theme sets the tone for wide-ranging figuration over which the spirit of Brahms hovers perceptibly. Although the E flat minor Variations were originally composed at much the same time, a major rewrite in 1903 gave them far greater scope and seriousness with much richer textures and a questing musical accent sometimes of quite modernist cut. In Jonathan Plowright these works have a near-ideal interpreter. Not only does he negotiate Paderewski’s dizzying virtuoso demands with evident ease, but also his ability to bring an almost string-like tone to the more lyrical passages constantly fascinates in this excellent recording. Jan Smaczny