• Ż-z-z

How many composers do you know whose names begin with Z?  Zappa, Zarlino, Zelenka, Zemlinsky, Zender, Zimmermann, Ziporyn, Zorn?  There are more than you think, especially in Poland.  Contemporary composers there include Artur Zagajewski, Patryk Zakrocki, Krzysztof Zarębski, Anna Zawadzka-Gołosz, Barbara Zawadzka, Lidia Zielińska, Maciej Zieliński, Agata Zubel and even a double Z: Wojciech Ziemowit Zych.  There are yet more when you go back to before 1900.  I’ve recently been spending a very enjoyable time in the company of three of them: Żeleński, Zarębski and Zarzycki.

In a couple of weeks’ time, Hyperion will be releasing a CD of nineteenth-century Polish chamber music with piano, played by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet.  The CD has two substantial pieces from the Polish Z list: the Piano Quintet by Juliusz Zarębski (1854-85) and the Piano Quartet by Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921).  Look out for it.  And at the weekend I was finishing off some work on Żeleński and Aleksander Zarzycki (1834-95) for a forthcoming CD of their piano concertos, again on Hyperion, with Jonathan Plowright and the BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz.  That’s due for release in 2013.

I’ve written on Zarębski before and have admired Żeleński’s Piano Quartet for a number years.  But the period between the death of Chopin in 1849 and the establishment of a professional orchestra – the Warsaw Philharmonic – in 1901 remains a dark age in Polish music.  That’s mainly because very few pieces survived in the repertoire into the 20th century.  Paderewski has been well served, others less so.  Today, much of the music remains unprinted, unperformed and unrecorded.  There have been isolated modern premieres in Poland since 2000, but virtually nothing substantial on CD, though the Polish label Acte Préalable is a notable exception.  It’s taken a foreign company – Hyperion – to come to the rescue (from partly later repertoire it has already recorded works by Melcer and Stojowski as part of its Romantic Piano Concerto series).

Zarębski’s Piano Quintet (1885) is a masterpiece.  At long last, non-Polish performers and companies are beginning to sit up and take note.  In addition to the forthcoming Hyperion CD, a DVD of a performance with Martha Argerich has been released this year.  That concert took place in the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw on 17 August 2011 as part of the festival Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and His Europe).  The recording is published by the Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina on NIFCDVD-002.  Here’s an audio of the Scherzo from that performance.

 

Żeleński’s Piano Quartet op.61 (undated) is one of his better-known pieces, alongside his ‘characteristic overture’ W Tatrach op.27 (In the Tatras, 1868-70).  Another recording, by Joanna Ławrynowicz and members of the Four Strings Quartet, was issued on Acte Préalable earlier this year.  Prior to that, there was a great Olympia CD with the Polish Piano Quartet, which coupled the Żeleński with another, even more joyous piano quartet by Zygmunt Noskowski. Żeleński’s Piano Concerto op.60 dates from later in his life (according to a recent source, from 1903).  Holding the fort before the CD releases of both the Piano Concerto (next year) and the Piano Quartet (next month), here’s the first movement of the latter, from the OLympia recording.

 

Of these three Zs, Zarzycki is by far the least known.  But the forthcoming Hyperion CD of works for piano and orchestra gives an opportunity to redress the situation, not only with his Piano Concerto but also his Grande Polonaise, both dating from 1859-60 when he was studying in Paris.  He gave the premieres himself.  Up until now, Zarzycki’s been known for his small-scale chamber pieces.  One of these, the Mazurka in G for violin and piano, has caught the attention over the years of distinguished violinists, including David Oistrakh.  I don’t know when this was filmed, but Oistrakh certainly makes the case for the piece.

 

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