Hommage a Chopin (Hyperion, through Ode Records)
Verdict: "The Poet of the Piano gets the perfect present for his big 200th"
Jonathan Plowright has been making an enviable reputation for himself in the more recherche corners of the Romantic piano repertoire. The Englishman is also a specialist in Polish music and forgotten names like Stojowski and Melcer have reasserted themselves on Hyperion recordings, thanks to Plowright's faith and artistry.
His 2007 collection of Paderewski's music revealed that this composer deserves to go down in history for more than the hackneyed Minuet in G and the fact that he became Prime Minster of his country.
Plowright now turns to the greatest Pole of them all, Frederic Chopin, and, for the bicentenary year, is offering a garland of keyboard tributes.
We find a Grieg Studie, a sleek will-o'-the-wisp, well worthy of being sneaked into the master's Opus 10 or Opus 25 sets. Tchaikovsky's Un poco di Chopin, written just months before the Russian's death, is a capricious Mazurka, with a strain of melancholy that would have appealed to the original poet of the piano.
Plowright enjoys venturing far from the mainstream, unearthing a lush Nottorno by the Bohemian composer Eduard Napravnik, who worked in Russia for most of his life. When Jeremy Nicholas' booklet essay describes its main theme as "maddeningly catchy", it is an understatement.
Leopold Godowsky, an uberpianist of his time who saw fit to elaborate on Chopin's already fearsome Etudes, takes the Polish composer for an elegant saunter around the dance floor in a piece from his Walzermasken, while Theodor Leschetizky's Hommage a Chopin, one of Plowright's loveliest performances, explores an elegant land somewhere between waltz and mazurka.
Swiss composer Honegger brings Chopin into the 20th century, with a nostalgia-laden Souvenir de Chopin from one of his film scores. While Lennox Berkeley's three Mazurkas are served tingling crisp, Plowright unleashes the full dramatic potential of a Ballade by the Brazilian Villa-Lobos.
The most substantial pieces are two sets of variations. Busoni tackles the C minor Prelude with a canvas that shifts from the magisterial to a demonic virtuoso workout while Federico Mompou adds Spanish atmosphere to his 13 takes on the A major Prelude. Plowright is simply superb, making one hope there is a second volume of Hommages in the pipeline.