• New CD Note (Różycki/Hyperion)

034571280660In the last few of years of writing CD notes, I have unexpectedly been travelling back in time to Polish repertoire, little of which I knew.  It began back in 1998, with a note on Paderewski’s Symphony ‘Polonia’, followed by a CD of his major piano works.  But the trend has accelerated recently with notes on Zarębski (Piano Quintet – which I did know!), Żeleński (Piano Quartet, Piano Concerto), Zarzycki (Grande Polonaise, Piano Concerto), Dobrzyński (Overture to Monbar, Piano Concerto, Symphony no.2) and Scharwenka (Piano Concertos 1-4).  The world of the curious listener is forever indebted to the two UK companies – Hyperion and Chandos – that have made this and other neglected repertoire available.

Now I can add another name to the roster: Ludomir Różycki (concertante works for piano and orchestra), and there’s another CD in the pipeline of piano quintets by Różycki and Ignacy Friedman.  Różycki was part of the short-lived composer collective a few years into the 20th century – Młoda Polska w Muzyce (Young Poland in Music) – that also included Szymanowski.  But Różycki’s music rarely penetrated outside Poland and even within Poland he is known primarily for one score, the ballet Pan Twardowski (Mr Twardowski).  I saw this many moons ago, and it is a totally delightful and brilliantly characterised piece of Tchaikovskian whimsy, with the necessary dark undertow.  This new CD of Różycki’s music has many surprises as well as confirming him as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative with a clear lyrical gift.  The Second Piano Concerto in particular raises as many questions as it answers, probably as a consequence of the time and place of its composition (1941, Warsaw).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• And here’s a little extra post – When was Różycki born? – that tries to shed some light on the mistaken belief (see major dictionaries) that Różycki was born in 1884, not 1883.

• New CD Note (Szymański & Mykietyn/Hyperion)

034571280851This is the third CD by the Royal String Quartet for which I have had the pleasure and privilege of writing the booklet note.  Following on from the RSQ’s recordings of string quartets by Górecki and Penderecki and Lutosławski, Hyperion is now – with great initiative – drawing attention to music by younger Polish composers who are far less well-known outside Poland.  Paweł Szymański and Paweł Mykietyn are fascinating composers, and this CD is a terrific introduction to their chamber music.  These four works, dating from 1982 to 2013, are given performances with the clarity, insight and verve that are the hallmark of the RSQ.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for the Szymański and Mykietyn String Quartets, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Żeleński & Zarzycki/Hyperion)

034571179582I’ve recently been drawn into writing about nineteenth-century Polish music, mainly about composers whose surnames begin with Z or Ż.  Here are two of them: Władysław Żeleński and Aleksander Zarzycki.  Following his highly acclaimed 2012 recording of Zarębski and Żeleński chamber music with the Szymanowski Quartet on Hyperion, Jonathan Plowright performs music for piano and orchestra by Żeleński and Zarzycki on his new Hyperion CD.  It’s the 59th CD in Hyperion’s ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series.  Plowright’s partners on this occasion are the BBC Scottish SO and the Polish conductor Łukasz Borowicz.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Żeleński and Zarzycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

NEWSFLASH!  MusicWeb-International has awarded this CD ‘Discovery of the Month’ (May, 2013).  En passant, the review by Dan Morgan comments on my ‘admirably succinct liner-notes’ (3 May 2013).  In his review in Gramophone (June, 2013, p.69), Jeremy Nicholas refers to ‘Adrian Thomas’s informative booklet’.

• RSQ +1

Following its acclaimed CD of the Górecki quartets for Hyperion in 2011, the Royal String Quartet is riding high with its new Hyperion release of the quartets by Penderecki and Lutosławski.  Since its inception 15 years ago, when its members were students at the (then) Academy of Music in Warsaw, its concerts and recordings have received worldwide praise.  The RSQ has had a particularly fruitful career in the UK.  In 2004-06 it was chosen as one of the participants in BBC Radio 3’s renowned New Generation Artists scheme, and since 2012 it has been Quartet in Residence at The Queen’s University of Belfast, where I worked for the first 23 years of my own career.  I want to draw your attention, however, to the other music-making that the RSQ carries out in its native Poland which may not be so familiar to listeners elsewhere.

First and foremost are the RSQ’s ‘Kwartesencja’ festivals that it has mounted in Warsaw every year bar one since 2004.  These are designed not only to feature the RSQ but also to explore a huge range of collaborative possibilities with one or more other musicians.  Its two concerts from last year alone are excellent pointers to the versatility and imagination that the RSQ brings to its programming.

Kwartesencja 2012

I wish that I had been at the two concerts on 7 and 8 December 2012 (the programmes for this and previous Kwartesencja festivals are still online, but only in Polish).  Fortunately, the RSQ is media-savvy and excerpts from the 2012 events and follow-up recordings are now available on YouTube.

The first +1 was the actress Stanisława Celińska, well-known in Poland on stage and screen.  She performed ‘Songs about Warsaw’ with the RSQ, in arrangements by Bartek Wąsik (piano).  The concert on 7 December 2012 was a huge success and the project was encored on 4-5 January 2013.  It’s being repeated tomorrow night (19 March) in Wrocław.  Several of the songs have since appeared on YouTube and the collection has been issued on the CD Nowa Warszawa (New Warsaw).

These songs are but the most recent in a long Polish tradition of part-sung, part-declaimed lyrics with a mix of melancholic and nostalgic texts (my favourite in this regard is still the magical collaboration between Ewa Demarczyk and Zygmunt Konieczny in the 1960s).  Whether Nowa Warszawa has wider appeal outside Poland – Polish lyrics might be the sticking point – remains to be seen, but I hope it does.  Here’s the video of  ‘Warszawa’ from Kwartesencja 2012.  (It was originally recorded by the Polish ’80s band, T[eenage]. Love, whose own version is quite a contrast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCfDEusHaDw.)


Here’s a track from the Nowa Warszawa CD: Stanisław Sojka/Soyka’s ‘Tango Warszawa’:

herdzinThe second +1, on 8 December 2012, was the young Polish jazz violinist, Adam Baldych.  In a move which might come across as sacrilegious, the RSQ and Baldych created a far-reaching improvisation on Lutosławski’s String Quartet.  Such an approach to their musical heritage is not entirely unknown among Polish musicians. Chopin has been the subject of attention from the Jagodziński Trio and Leszek Możdżer.  And the RSQ previously worked with the Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Herdzin and his quartet, in Herdzin’s Fantasy on Themes from Grażyna Bacewicz’s Fourth String Quartet (CD issued in 2008, right).

See and hear for yourself what Baldych and the RSQ made of the Lutosławski quartet.  In this studio recording for Polish TV Kultura, there are some odd things going on in the background (the changing number of people sitting around the table in the shadows), plus two editing blips (at 12’31” and 16’02”), which make it hard to determine what the full performance was like.  Nevertheless, it makes an intriguing counterpart to the RSQ’s riveting performance of Lutosławski’s original quartet on its new Hyperion CD.


• New CD Note (Penderecki & Lutosławski/Hyperion)

034571179438-1I have been a fan of the Royal String Quartet for several years.  I heard these superb Polish musicians play Górecki’s Third String Quartet at the St Magnus Festival on Orkney in 2010 and subsequently wrote the booklet note for their Hyperion CD of all three Górecki quartets.  Now they’ve released an equally stunning account of the three Penderecki quartets alongside Lutosławski’s sole contribution to the genre.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Penderecki & Lutosławski String Quartets, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Zarębski & Żeleński/Hyperion)

I’ve been an advocate of Juliusz Zarębski’s Piano Quintet for years and so I’m delighted that Hyperion has just released this new recording. It’s accompanied by the Piano Quartet by his slightly older compatriot, Władysław Żeleński. If you haven’t come across either composer. you’re in for a treat.  Zarębski in particular is a gem largely hidden outside his native Poland, even though in his short lifetime (he died of tuberculosis aged just 31) he was renowned across Europe as a stupendous pianist. A pupil of Liszt, he wrote mostly piano music, some of it stylistically advanced for the time. He composed the Piano Quintet in the last year of his life (1885), and I don’t think that I’m overstating it when I assert that it rivals any other example of the genre.  One of these days, it will be more widely recognised for the masterpiece that it is.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Zarębski and Żeleński, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.  Here’s another link, this time to an earlier post about the Zarębski Quintet, plus one I wrote a few weeks ago on Zarębski, Zarzycki and Żeleński.

NEWSFLASH!  In its review, the BBC Music Magazine (Christmas issue 2012, p.93) awarded the CD ✭✭✭✭✭ for Performance and ✭✭✭✭✭ for Recording and also made it its ‘Chamber Choice’.  Thoroughly deserved – bravo to Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet.  It was also nice – and unexpected – to read the last sentence: ‘With the inclusion of Adrian Thomas’s expert sleeve notes, this represents another invaluable Hyperion release’!

NEWSFLASH no.2!  On Radio 3’s CD Review on 9 February 2013, Andrew McGregor gave an enthusiastic response to this CD, also drawing on what he called “Adrian Thomas’s excellent notes”.  Thanks Andrew!

NEWSFLASH no.3!  Jonathan Plowright has passed on to me a ✭✭✭✭✭ online review in Audiophile Audition, dated 13 February 2013.  It ends: ‘Adrian Thomas’s excellent liner [notes?] tell some intriguing musical stories[.]’.

NEWSFLASH no.4 and no.5!  Another great review for this CD from Steve Arloff, including several references to the notes, including ‘the excellent booklet notes’: online review on MusicWeb-International.  Previously on MusicWeb-Interntional, its Classical editor Rob Barnett also posted an enthusiastic review, including the comment: ‘Adrian Thomas provides the much-needed commentary and does so with both style and sterling content’.

• 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.


• BBC R3 NGAs 2012: A Third Polish Quartet

A third Polish string quartet has become a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artist scheme.  The appointment of the Apollon Musagète Quartett (2012-14) follows on from the successes of the Karol Szymanowski Quartet (2001-03) and the Royal Quartet (2004-06).  Both the Szymanowski and Royal quartets have since made distinguished careers, although of the three only the Royal Quartet still seems to be based in Poland.

All three quartets are active in the recording studio.  The Royal Quartet’s CD of the three Górecki quartets (2011) has been critically acclaimed, and its follow-up CD of the quartets by Lutosławski and Penderecki is due for release early next year.  Even more imminent is the Szymanowski Quartet’s recording with Jonathan Plowright of Zarębski’s Piano Quintet and Żeleński’s Piano Quartet.  All of these recordings are on Hyperion.

I’ve not been able to find out anything about the Apollon Musagète Quartett prior to its founding in Vienna in 2006, so I don’t know what the players’ Polish roots are.  Its Polish repertoire includes works by core composers – the two Szymanowski quartets, Bacewicz’s First Piano Quintet, Lutosławski’s Quartet, Górecki’s First, Penderecki’s Der unterbrochene Gedanke and Third Quartet – and also a few surprises: Żeleński’s Variations on an Original Theme, and arrangements of a cappella choral pieces by the Renaissance composer Wacław z Szamotuł and of two piano études by Chopin.  The Apollon Musagète Quartett is due to release a CD on the Oehms Classics label next year of quartets by Lutosławski, Górecki and Penderecki.

It would be good to learn of plans by any of these quartets to take up the music of Polish composers of their own generation.  There have already been some interesting collaborations outside the standard chamber-music repertoire.  Perhaps the most intriguing venture by the Apollon Musagète Quartett has been with Tori Amos, touring with her and contributing to the Night of Hunters CD (2011).

Cue not-too-wobbly video of ‘Shattering Sea’ from a tour date at the Manchester Apollo.


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