• Zarębski Piano Quintet on PR ‘Trybunał’

For the second time in a month, I tuned in yesterday to Polish Radio 2 ‘Dwójka’ for one of its fortnightly ‘tribunals’. The format is simple but unusual.  Three commentators – on this occasion, two critics plus a performer – whittle down a selection of six recordings of the same piece until it votes for a winner.  All six CDs are heard in the same initial section of the piece, then four in a second section, three in a third and two in a fourth.  It’s an interesting idea and draws in the listener.  One might argue, however, if the sections are always chosen in the order that the work progresses, that a recording that improves as it unfolds may lose out too soon.  The line-up for yesterday’s panel was Dorota Kozińska (critic), Kacper Miklaszewski (critic), Jacek Hawryluk (chair) and Karol Radziwonowicz (pianist).

d1a06fe4-72f6-4f8b-8df8-e16a9097513d.file

Yesterday it was the turn of the Piano Quintet (1885) by Juliusz Zarębski (1854-85).  I have enthused on this work elsewhere in these pages, almost exactly a year ago (Zarębski’s Piano Quintet).  Last February, I was especially keen on a YouTube recording by Darina Vassileva and the Quarto Quartet from Bulgaria and included links in my post, but I’ve still not been able to find a copy of its CD recording on the Arcadium label.

The schedule yesterday was:

• Round 1: Opening of first movement
• Round 2: Opening of second movement
• Round 3: Opening of third movement
• Round 4: Opening of fourth movement.

After Round 1, the panel was (almost) unanimous in eliminating CDs 3 and 4, both of which – from this opening section only – sounded untidy, messy of tempo and somewhat over-egged expressively.  They were both live performances.

• It turned out that both CD3 and CD4 had Martha Argerich at the keyboard: a CD from the Lugano Festival (2011) and a DVD from a Warsaw concert (2012).  I must admit to being surprised that two of the six slots were taken up by one major player, when in fact there are now over a dozen recordings that have been issued on CD over the past 20 years or so.  A pity, therefore, that one of these was not chosen to replace one of the Argerich recordings.

• Round 2 resulted in the elimination of another recent recording (CD6), this one by Piotr Sałajczyk and the Lasoń Ensemble (Accord, 2012) [thanks to William Hughes for pointing me in the right direction for the info on the players].

By this stage, the panel had isolated CD2 as being the least Slavonic/Romantic in tone and temperament, so the discussion seemed to be coming to a head partly on that basis.

• Round 3 used a sizeable chunk from the beginning of the Scherzo.  For my money, the only recording to live up to the title of the movement was CD2.  It was light on its feet, whereas the others – especially the pianists – chose slow, deliberate tempos and made heavy weather of an admittedly difficult movement.  After some deliberation, CD1 was lost – Wojciech Świtała with the Royal String Quartet (Bearton, 2006).  It was now down to a contest between the new, ‘non-Slavonic’ CD2 and the archival, ‘Slavonic’ CD5.

• I could tell which way Round 4 was going to go from the comments so far.  What puzzled me was that to my ears the excerpts from CD5 had severe drawbacks.  Its first movement showed little shaping of cadential phrases (they simply motored on), while the second was on the slow side, with over-emphatic rhythmic articulation and a main theme (violin) that was overcooked and pretty horrid.  The finale sounded better, though the piano playing still seemed mannered in places.  CD2, on the other hand, brought freshness and new perspectives, even if it did not have the lushness and depth of tone of CD5.

• CD2 was the runner-up: Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet (Hyperion, 2012).*  CD5 was the only archive recording of the six, dating (if I caught it right) from c.1963.  It featured ‘The Pianist’ Władysław Szpilman as a member of the Warsaw Piano Quintet, with Bronisław Gimpel as first violin.  Well, that’s me told, but I stick to my guns about the over-ripe tone of the theme in the second movement.  This remastered LP recording has been reisued on a 3-CD set of Szpilman’s ‘Legendary Recordings’ (Sony, 2005).

This got me thinking about the recording history of the Zarębski Piano Quintet.  For a work that was not published until the 1930s and which has never had much of a presence or reputation outside Poland, its tally of over twelve CD recordings is remarkable.  Here’s my list, with the six recordings considered yesterday in bold – if you know of any omissions or errors, please let me know.  It’s in chronological order of release (as far as I can ascertain).

Władysław Szpilman, Warsaw Piano Quintet (1963; Sony 3-CD set, 2005)
• Waldemar Malicki, Varsovia String Quartet (Pavane, 1990)
• Szábolcs Esztényi, Wilanów String Quartet (Accord, 1991)
• Jerzy Witkowski and friends (Olympia, 1992)
• Waldemar Malicki, Amar Corde String Quartet (Amar Corde, 1997)
• Paweł Kowalski, Silesian String Quartet (Polskie Nagranie, 1998)
• Krzysztof Jabłonski, Warsaw Quintet (Dux, 2005)
Wojciech Świtała, Royal String Quartet (Bearton, 2006)
• Darina Vassileva, Quarto String Quartet (Arcadium, 2010)
Martha Argerich +, live (EMI 3-CD set, 2011)
Martha Argerich +, live (Chopin Institute DVD, 2012)
Piotr Sałajczyk, Lasoń Ensemble (CD Accord, 2012)
Jonathan Plowright, Szymanowski String Quartet (Hyperion, 2012)

There is also a newly-issued CD of the quintet in an arrangement for piano and string orchestra (my thanks to Tomasz Andrzejewski for this information; see comments below).
• Ewa Pobłocka, Amadeus CO of Polish Radio, cond. Agnieszka Duczmal (Polish Radio, 2013)

If the Vassileva-Quarto recording of 2010 is anything like the live video on YouTube, it could be something really special.  I still remain true to the first recording that I heard – the Malicki-Varsovia on Pavane – even if it verges on being an archival recording.  For one thing, its pacing and sense of musical drama are hard to better and, for another, it strikes a terrific balance between expressivity and momentum.  If you can get hold of a copy, do.  If you can’t, then my undoubted winner – for its revelatory and unfettered insights – is the most recent recording, by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet on Hyperion.

………..

* I must declare my interest here, although I listened with innocent ears: I wrote the booklet notes for the Plowright/Szymanowski recording.

UPDATE!  On 22 February 2013, Polish Radio 2 responded to this post by posting about it themselves: Adrian Thomas po raz drugi o werdykcie Trybunału (Adrian Thomas for the second time on the verdict of the Tribunal).  They also put up this rather jolly second photo from the recording session:

bf3f27ec-f747-40f9-8ac5-1ac5371af15d.fileMy first post had been • Gardner/BBC SO top Polish Radio poll the day after the Tribunal on 19 January 2013 for Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.  It received this response from Warsaw on 24 January: Wyroki Trybunału komentowane w Wielkiej Brytanii (Verdicts of the Tribunal commented on in Great Britain).

• Gardner/BBC SO top Polish Radio poll

Yesterday afternoon (19 January), a Polish Radio panel chose Edward Gardner’s recording of Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, with the BBC SO on Chandos, as its top recommendation for CDs of this much-recorded work.  This was no ordinary ‘Building a Library’ type of format, however.  This was an elimination contest based purely on listening, with no foreknowledge of who the performers were.

UnknownRadio Dwójka (PR 2) is Polish Radio’s cultural channel.  Every fortnight on Płytowy Tribunał Dwójki, a panel of three sits down to debate and vote on the best recorded interpretation of a selected work.  There is also a studio audience which gets its own vote.  It’s an intriguing format, one in which the panel puts its reputation on the line.  Last night, it consisted of the music critics and broadcasters Dorota Kozińska and Kacper Miklaszewski, and the conductor Wojciech Michniewski.  Jacek Hawryluk was in the chair.  Michniewski knew Lutosławski well, has conducted his music frequently, including sharing the conducting of Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux with the composer on the 6-LP boxed set of Lutosławski’s music issued by EMI in 1978.  He was a key figure in the Breaking Chains festival in London in 1997 and in 2001 recorded a CD of Lutosławski’s music on Accord.  But I digress.

The schedule for yesterday’s ‘tribunal’ on the Concerto for Orchestra was as follows:

• Round 1: Opening of I ‘Intrada’
• Round 2: Opening of II ‘Capriccio notturno ed Arioso’
• Round 3: Opening of III ‘Passacaglia’
• Round 4: Continuation of III ‘Toccata e Corale’

After listening to the ‘Intrada’ from all six unidentified recordings, two were eliminated at the end of Round 1, then one more each round until two were left in Round 4. The results were:

• After Round 1: the two recordings eliminated were both of recordings by the Warsaw Philharmonic.  The earlier recording was conducted by the man who commissioned the Concerto for Orchestra in 1950 and gave the premiere four years later, Witold Rowicki (Philips, 1964, first released on LP).  The second recording was more recent, conducted by Antoni Wit (Dux, 2005)

• After Round 2, the composer’s own recording from 1976/77 was eliminated (EMI, first released on LP in 1978).

• After Round 3, Mariss Jansons’s new recording with the Bavarian Radio SO (BR Klassik, 2011) got the chop.

That left just two recordings.  The panel had proved itself pretty much of one mind during the earlier eliminations, and so it proved here too.

• In Round 4, the runner-up was Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s recording with the London PO (LPO label, recorded live in 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall, London, released 2011).

• The winner was Edward Gardner’s recording with the BBC SO, recorded and released in 2010 on the first of Chandos’s much-acclaimed series devoted to Lutosławski (for which I’ve had the privilege of writing the booklet notes).

wl-chandos-2010

The studio audience also agreed with the panel about the top recording, but chose Lutosławski’s recording as the runner-up.  While the panel preferred the three recent versions to the older ones, I was pleased to see that Lutosławski’s powerful interpretation still made an impact.

…….

If you’ve come across Hyperion’s recent release of Juliusz Zarębski’s wonderful Piano Quintet – played by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet – you may be interested that Zarębski’s work also comes up before the Polish Radio 2 ‘tribunal’ in four weeks’ time, on Saturday 16 February.  Of course, no-one knows if the Hyperion CD will be among those under discussion (my guess is that it will), but I’ll keep you posted!

…….

UPDATE! On 24 January 2013, Polish Radio 2 responded to this post with one of its own: Wyroki Trybunału komentowane w Wielkiej Brytanii (Verdicts of the Tribunal commented on in Great Britain).  When I posted on the Tribunal’s deliberations on Zarębski’s Piano Quintet, Polish Radio 2 responded again: Adrian Thomas po raz drugi o werdykcie Trybunału (Adrian Thomas for the second time on the verdict of the Tribunal).

%d bloggers like this: